Unvaccinated Austrian blockade begins amidst COVID resurgence

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BERLIN – On Monday, Austria took what its leader called the “dramatic” step of implementing a national blockade for unvaccinated people who have not recently had COVID-19, perhaps the most drastic of a series of measures taken by European governments to get a massive regional resurgence of the coronavirus under control.

The move, which took effect at midnight, bans people 12 years of age and older who have not been vaccinated or have recently recovered from leaving their homes except for basic activities like working, grocery shopping, go to school or college or for a walk – – or get vaccinated.

The blockade is initially imposed until November 24 in the Alpine country of 8.9 million. It does not apply to children under 12 as they cannot yet be officially vaccinated, although the capital, Vienna, opened vaccinations for children under 12 as part of a pilot project on Monday and reported strong demand.

Officials said police patrols will be stepped up and unvaccinated people could be fined up to 1,450 euros (US $ 1,660) if they breach the blockade.

“We haven’t really taken this step lightly and I don’t think we need to talk about it,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio. “This is a dramatic step – about 2 million people in this country are affected. … What we are really looking for is to minimize contact between unvaccinated and vaccinated, and also contact between unvaccinated.”

“My goal is clearly to have the unvaccinated vaccinated and not to block the vaccinated,” added Schallenberg. “In the long run, the way out of this vicious circle we’re in – and it’s a vicious circle, we’re stumbling from wave to wave, and that can’t go on indefinitely – is just vaccination.” .

About 65% of the population is fully vaccinated, a rate that Schallenberg described as “shamefully low”. All school students, vaccinated or not, are now required to take three tests per week, at least one of which is a PCR test.

The authorities are concerned about the increase in infections and the increasing pressure on hospitals. Austria on Sunday recorded 849.2 new cases per 100,000 residents in the previous seven days. Its situation is far worse than that of neighboring Germany, where case rates on Monday reached the latest in a series of records, with 303 new cases per 100,000 residents in seven days.

On Monday, Berlin became the latest of several German states to restrict access to restaurants, cinemas, museums and concerts to people who have recently been vaccinated or cured, excluding unvaccinated people who tested negative. Children under the age of 18 are exempt.

On Thursday, the German parliament is expected to vote on a new legal framework for coronavirus restrictions drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next government. These plans are reportedly being beefed up to allow for tighter contact restrictions than originally intended.

Separately, the three parties – hoping to take office early next month – also appear set to introduce a vaccination mandate in some areas, a step officials have hesitated at so far.

“We will need compulsory vaccination … in nursing homes, daycare centers and so on,” said the leader of the Green Parliamentary Group, Katrin Goering-Eckardt. “We will make it take off.”

Germany has struggled to give new impetus to its vaccination campaign, with just over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, and is looking to increase booster doses.

On Saturday, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel launched a new appeal for those who resist to get vaccinated. “Think about it again,” he said. The country’s disease control center asked people last week to cancel or avoid major events.

In western Germany, the Netherlands implemented a partial lockdown on Saturday evening that is expected to last at least three weeks, forcing bars and restaurants to close at 20:00. In the northern city of Leeuwarden, hundreds of young people gathered in a central square, lighting fireworks and holding rockets, before riot police entered to repel protesters.

In Austria, the far-right opposition leader Freedom Party has promised to fight the new restrictions with “all the parliamentary and legal means we have at our disposal”. Herbert Kickl said in a statement that “2 million people are practically imprisoned without having done anything wrong”.

On Monday, Kickl announced on Facebook that he tested positive for COVID-19 and would have to self-isolate for 14 days, so he will not be able to participate in a protest in Vienna scheduled for Saturday.

The government’s next move could be to tighten the screws.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told ORF television he wanted to discuss further measures on Wednesday and said a proposal on the table is about limits on night outings that would also apply to vaccinated people.

Schallenberg played a more cautious note. “Of course I’m not ruling out tightening up” the measures, he said, but he indicated he didn’t expect restrictions on bars and the like at the moment.

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