Freedom Party supporters among thousands protesting in Vienna against COVID lockdown and mandatory vaccinations.
The German health minister has warned citizens that they would be either “vaccinated, cured or dead” from COVID-19 by the end of winter as several European countries impose restrictions amid surging infections.
“Probably by the end of this winter, as is sometimes cynically said, pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, cured or dead,” Jens Spahn said, as he urged more Germans to get the jab.
As intensive care beds fill up fast, Germany’s worst-hit regions have ordered new shutdowns, including the closure of Christmas markets.
In regions with high hospitalisation rates, the unvaccinated will be barred from public spaces like cinemas, gyms and indoor dining.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Germany’s current COVID restrictions, including barring the unvaccinated from certain public spaces “are not enough”.
“We have a highly dramatic situation” as new infections “double every 12 days”, Merkel told a meeting of leaders of her conservative CDU party, according to participants.
The European Union’s most populous country, Germany added another 30,643 cases on Monday, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to just more than 5.3 million.
Almost 100,000 people have died so far, including 62 during the past 24 hours. “We have a very, very difficult situation in many hospitals,” Spahn said.
Cases surge in Austria
Meanwhile, Austria has re-entered a full national lockdown in an effort to contain rocketing coronavirus infections.
Monday’s move in the Alpine nation comes as average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks and hospitals in heavily hit states warn that their intensive care units are approaching peak capacity.
The lockdown will last at least 10 days but could extend to 20, officials said. It makes Austria the first Western European country to reimpose a full shutdown since vaccines became widely available.
Under the measures, people can only leave home for specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor, or exercising.
Non-essential shops have closed and Austrians are being asked to work from home if possible.
Fewer than 66 percent of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, and inoculations have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.
As it locks down again, Austria is also introducing a vaccine mandate as of February 1 in a bid to curtail transmission rates, making it the first European country to enshrine inoculation against COVID-19 as a legal requirement.
The details of how the mandate will work are not yet clear, but the government has said people who do not adhere to it will face fines.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg apologised to all vaccinated people on Friday, saying it was not fair that they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions.
Earlier, Austria had imposed a lockdown solely for unvaccinated people but this did not slow infections enough.
On Friday, it reported 15,809 new infections, an all-time high.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Vienna, said European governments will be watching the situation in Austria closely as they too consider reimposing restrictions.
“Across Europe, we are seeing a fourth wave, and there is concern among all European governments,” he said.
“Europe is now looking at Austria to see if this lockdown is going to have a profound effect. If it does, then we may be looking at full lockdowns right across Europe.”
Protests against COVID rules
The new measures, particularly the vaccine mandate, have met fierce opposition among some.
A Saturday protest in Vienna drew 40,000 people, according to police, including members of far-right parties and groups.
Simmons said some Austrians felt the fresh restrictions and shift to compulsory vaccination were “too much for them”.
“The protests on Saturday showed how people feel, and people are accusing the government of authoritarian tactics,” he said.
Demonstrations against renewed virus restrictions took place in other European countries during the weekend, including Belgium, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte slammed three nights of unrest as “pure violence” by “idiots”, while his Belgian counterpart Alexander de Croo called the violence at a 35,000-strong protest in Brussels “absolutely unacceptable”.
The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that Europe, which is again the epicentre of the pandemic, could witness 500,000 more COVID-19 deaths by February unless action is taken to stem the spread of the virus.