Austria will place millions of people not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in lockdown as of Monday in an effort to deal with a surge in infections, the country’s chancellor has said.
“We must raise the vaccination rate. It is shamefully low,” Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference on Sunday, announcing the measure after a video call with the governors of Austria’s nine provinces. Lockdowns for two of the provinces, Upper Austria and Salzburg, were announced on Friday, but Sunday’s move extends that to the whole country.
Approximately 65% of the population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.
Europe has again become the centre of the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting some governments to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns.
Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament.
While the Netherlands is dealing with its surge in infections by imposing a partial lockdown that applies to all, Austria’s conservative-led government has said it wants to avoid imposing further restrictions on those who are fully vaccinated.
The Austrian health minister, Wolfgang Mueckstein, said that those aged 12 and under would be exempt from the lockdown, under which the unvaccinated can only leave their homes for a limited number of reasons, such as going to work or shopping for essentials. He said that the lockdown would initially last 10 days.
Many officials, including within Schallenberg’s conservative Austrian People’s party and the police, have expressed doubts that such a lockdown can be properly enforced since it applies to only part of the population. However, Schallenberg and the interior minister, Karl Nehammer, said that police would carry out thorough checks.
Meanwhile, Dutch police arrested 15 people in a town in the north of the Netherlands late on Saturday during clashes with demonstrators who were protesting against a new partial lockdown.
Police said that hundreds of people had gathered at a square in the centre of Leeuwarden to protest against the new rules, under which bars and restaurants must close at 8pm.
On Friday, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced at least three weeks of lockdown measures targeting restaurants, shops and sporting events to curb a record spike in coronavirus infections.