‘We’re in a national emergency’: Germany may follow Austria into full lockdown as COVID cases hit new high

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Austria is to become the first country in Europe to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory by law and has announced a full national lockdown from Monday, amid a fourth wave sweeping the continent.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the coronavirus lockdown would run for a “maximum of 20 days”.

He also announced it would be a “requirement to get vaccinated” in Austria from 1 February.

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Students will have to go back into home schooling, restaurants and most stores will be closed and cultural events will be canceled.

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“We do not want a fifth wave,” Mr Schallenberg said.

“Nor do we want a sixth or seventh wave. This is very painful.”

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The measure to make vaccination compulsory among the adult population will attract controversy, with Austria only the fourth country in the world to do so – after Indonesia, Micronesia and Turkmenistan.

Mr Schallenberg said: “Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many among us didn’t get vaccinated. The results are overcrowded intensive care units and enormous suffering.”

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He said the government therefore took “a very difficult decision…that we will quickly introduce a nationwide vaccine mandate” from 1 February.

The nation had already introduced a series of strict measures along with Germany and Slovakia in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as a debate intensifies over whether vaccines alone are enough to tackle coronavirus.

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Around 66% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Its infection rate is among the highest in the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people – and daily cases keep setting records.

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Police officers check the vaccination status of shoppers at the entrance of a store

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People queue for a vaccination bus in Vienna, Austria

The country of 8.9 million has reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily, while hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new COVID-19 patients and deaths have also been rising again.

The national lockdown will initially last for 10 days, after which the effects will be assessed and the measures extended to a maximum of 20 days if cases have not gone down enough.

Two states in Austria – Salzburg and Upper Austria – had already triggered a range of restrictions, with the rules extended to apply to vaccinated people and a full lockdown from next week that would see schools shut and a curfew imposed.

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Last week, Europe accounted for more than half of the seven-day average of infections globally and about half of the latest deaths, according to a tally by Reuters news agency.

It comes after German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced fresh curbs on public life for those who have not had a vaccine in areas where hospitals are filling dangerously fast with coronavirus patients.

And German health minister Jens Spahn today hinted that the country could follow Austria in announcing a full lockdown.

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“We are now in a situation … where we can’t rule anything out,” he said.

“We are in a national emergency.”

Parts of the country have already shut down businesses, with images showing stalls in Munich’s Christmas market closed.

Greece has also imposed more restrictions on unvaccinated people following a recent surge in cases – barring them from all indoor spaces, such as cinemas, museums, and gyms.

The death rate from the virus has reached its highest level in six months, as roughly one-third of Greece’s population remains unvaccinated.