As of Monday, everyone in Austria who is 12 or older and has not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be confined to their homes. The move comes as the country is dealing with a record surge in infections that is straining hospitals. At a time when Europe has once again become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, Austria is experiencing one of the highest infection rates in the continent. It also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe as only around 65 percent of its population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The move appears to make Austria one of the first countries to impose a national lockdown strictly on the unvaccinated. It was part of a plan outlined in September that said those who are unvaccinated would be forced to stay at home once 30 percent of ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients. “We are not taking this step lightly but it is necessary,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said. The measure will initially be in place for 10 days. As the government unveiled the new restrictions, a crowd gathered in Vienna to protest the measures.
Many Austrians are skeptical of vaccines, a view that is pushed by the far-right Freedom Party, which is the third largest in parliament. But that skepticism is proving to be increasingly costly. The unvaccinated were already banned from many public places, including restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, and hairdressers, among others. Now, those who are not vaccinated will have to stay in their homes except for a few limited reasons like going to work or shopping for essential goods. Those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 will be exempt.
Law enforcement officers will be carrying out spot checks on those who are out on the street but many have expressed doubts that there can be any kind of proper enforcement of the rules. But officials have said that anyone who is found to be in breach of the lockdown could be fined up to 1,450 euros ($1,660). “As of tomorrow, every citizen, every person who lives in Austria must be aware that they can be checked by the police,” Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said at a news conference.
Austria’s lockdown plan may be novel but it’s hardly the only European country to impose mobility restrictions amid a COVID-19 surge. The Netherlands imposed a three-week partial lockdown on Friday. Germany has also said new measures could be taken amid an increase in cases as Berlin unveiled fresh restrictions on the unvaccinated.