Austria to Enter Lockdown, Bring in Mandatory Vaccinations

BERLIN (AP) -- Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said Friday that the country will go into a national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of coronavirus cases.

Schallenberg said the lockdown will start Monday and initially last for 10 days. Most stores will close, and cultural events will be canceled.

He initially said said all students would have to go back into home schooling. Wolfgang Mueckstein, the country's health minister, later said that kindergartens and schools would remain open for those who needed to go there but all parents were asked to keep their children at home if possible.

Starting on Feb. 1, the country will also make vaccinations mandatory, public broadcaster ORF reported.

"We do not want a fifth wave," Schallenberg said, according to ORF. "Not do we want a sixth or seventh wave."

Austria had initially introduced a national lockdown only for the unvaccinated that started Monday, but as virus cases continued to skyrocket the government said it had no choice but to extend it to everyone.

"This is very painful," Schallenberg said.

The national lockdown will initially last for 10 days, then the effects will be assessed and if virus cases have not gone down sufficiently, it can be extended to a maximum of 20 days.

Austria's intensive care doctors welcomed the government's decision.

"The record infection figures that we have now experienced day after day will only be reflected in normal and intensive care units with a time lag. It really is high time for a full stop," Walter Hasibeder, the president of the Society for Anesthesiology, Resuscitation and Intensive Care Medicine told Austrian news agency APA.

"Given the current infection developments, we believe there are no alternatives to even greater contact restriction than recently, so any measures that help curb the momentum are welcome," he added.

For the past seven days, the country has reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new COVID-19 patients, and deaths have been rising again, too. So far, 11,525 people have died of the virus in Austria.

Austria, a country of 8.9 million, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe -- only 65.7% of the population are fully vaccinated.

Despite all the persuasion and campaigns, too few people have decided to get vaccinated, Schallenberg said, leaving the country no other choice but to introduce mandatory vaccinations in February.

The chancellor said the details would be finalized in the coming weeks but those who continued to refuse to get vaccinated would have to expect to get fined.

"For a long time, the consensus in this country was that we didn't want mandatory vaccination," Schallenberg said. "For a long time, perhaps too long."