The Austrian government has ordered a nationwide lockdown for people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, a measure aimed at slowing the fast spread of the disease in the country.
The move, going into effect at midnight on Sunday, prohibits unvaccinated individuals older than age 12 from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping, going for a walk – or getting vaccinated.
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Authorities are concerned about rising deaths and that hospital staff will no longer be able to handle the growing influx of COVID-19 patients.
“It’s our job as the government of Austria to protect the people,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told reporters in the capital, Vienna, on Sunday. “Therefore we decided that starting Monday … there will be a lockdown for the unvaccinated.”
The lockdown affects about 2 million people in the country of 8.9 million people, news agency APA reported.
The lockdown will initially last for 10 days and police have been asked to check people outside to make sure they are vaccinated, Schallenberg said, adding that additional officers would go on patrol to control the lockdown.
Unvaccinated people can be fined up to 1,450 euros ($1,660) if they do not adhere to the restrictions.
Austria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, with about 65 percent of the total population fully vaccinated.
In recent weeks, the country has faced a worrying trend in coronavirus infections. On Sunday, it reported 11,552 new cases, up from 8,554 a week ago.
“With the vaccination rates as they are, we will stay stuck in a vicious cycle” of infections, Schallenberg said. The “shamefully low” uptake in vaccination had to be forced upwards, he added.
The seven-day infection rate stands at 775.5 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In comparison, the rate is at 289 in neighbouring Germany, which has already also sounded the alarm over the rising numbers.
Schallenberg pointed out that while the seven-day infection rate for vaccinated people has been falling in recent days, the same rate is rising quickly for the unvaccinated.
The chancellor also called on people who have been vaccinated to get their booster shot.