Austria is tightening the rules of a national vaccination program starting Monday in an effort to stem a wave of coronavirus that has driven cases to unprecedented levels in nearly a year.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced the changes on Friday evening, telling reporters after a meeting with state governors: “It is simply our responsibility to protect the people of our country.”
Austrians will need proof of vaccination or a previous infection to sit in a restaurant, enter a bar, visit a hairdresser, or attend any gathering of more than 25 people. So far, documentation of a negative test has also been accepted.
The new federal rules correspond to those that the capital, Vienna, had planned to introduce a few days later, when it will too start offering Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, anticipating a decision by the European medical regulator.
The country’s national health agency reports 522 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the past week – a rate not seen since November last year, when Austria was forced into a full bloc. However, hospitalizations remain below those of then, with about half of Covid patients in intensive care compared to the peak of November 2020, according to data from the health agency.
About 63% of people in Austria are fully vaccinated – more than in the United States, but less than in most European Union countries, according to government data collected by the Our World in Data project.
On Friday evening, at the press conference in Vienna, Mr. Schallenberg once again tried to persuade the Austrians to shoot.
“With a vaccination we protect not only ourselves, but also our friends, family and colleagues,” he said.