VIENNA, AUSTRIA – OCTOBER 26: People, holding placards and banners, gather to protest against COVID-19 measures, vaccination and government following the increasing number of cases in recent days.
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Austria is expected to impose lockdown restrictions on millions of unvaccinated people in the coming days.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a press conference Friday that his government wanted to give the “green light” to such measures by Sunday, Austria Press Agency reported. Lawmakers will meet over the weekend to discuss the move, according to the news agency.
The chancellor rejected the notion of a nationwide lockdown being applied to all of Austria’s citizens, telling reporters on Friday that the two-thirds of the population who had accepted the immunization would not be forced to show “solidarity” with the unvaccinated. However, he did caution that there may be some tightening of other restrictions.
Schallenberg said last month that if Covid-19 cases continued to rise, unvaccinated people would face new lockdown restrictions in line with the government’s incremental plan. That strategy would place unvaccinated people under lockdown once coronavirus patients occupy 30% of ICU beds in hospitals.
Covid patients currently take up 20% of ICU beds in Austria, according to Reuters, and that level is rising fast.
The country saw 67,148 new cases of Covid-19 over the past seven days — a new record weekly high, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
“We have just days until we have to introduce a lockdown for unvaccinated people,” Schallenberg told a press conference on Thursday.
The warning came after Schallenberg told reporters during a visit to the city of Bregenz on Thursday that he did not see “why two-thirds should lose their freedom because one-third is dithering.”
“For me, it is clear that there should be no lockdown for the vaccinated out of solidarity for the unvaccinated,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
The chancellor also said Thursday it was “probably inevitable” that Austria would have to impose a lockdown for those who were not vaccinated, adding that there was an “uncomfortable” winter and Christmas ahead for the unvaccinated, local media outlets reported.
Schallenberg went on to dub Austria’s vaccination rate as “shamefully low,” according to Reuters.
Data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows that around 65% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated. That gives Austria the second-lowest vaccination rate in Western Europe after Liechtenstein.
Official government data, meanwhile, shows that 760 in 100,000 people in Austria were infected with Covid over the last week. The least-vaccinated province of Upper Austria, where 1,193 in 100,000 people tested positive over the last week, has already announced plans to impose a lockdown on unvaccinated people from Monday. The province of Innsbruck is also reportedly weighing a lockdown, regardless of the plans nationally.
Unvaccinated people will be banned from visiting non-essential public places like restaurants and movie theaters, and will not be permitted to use services that require close contact, such as beauty salons and barbers.
Austria has faced issues with vaccine resistance in its push to roll out the Covid immunization. In September, the newly formed Menschen-Freiheit-Grundrechte (People-Freedom-Rights) party – a group of Covid vaccine skeptics – won three seats in the Upper Austrian regional parliament.
Meanwhile, Austria’s third-biggest political party, the right-wing Freedom Party, has openly condemned the Covid vaccine.