The National - News
Austria enters 20-day lockdown period after days of unrest across Europe
Austria entered a lockdown yesterday to contain a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, making it the first country in Western Europe to reimpose restrictions since vaccines were introduced.
Nine million people in Austria, including the fully vaccinated, are prohibited from leaving their homes for 20 days except for essential purposes.
It is the strictest measure used yet by a European country to combat infections.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said yesterday the virus would leave almost everyone in his country “vaccinated, cured or dead” by the end of winter.
At the weekend, there were protests that the Austrian government said were infiltrated by neo-Nazis and other extremists.
Some protesters wore a yellow star reading “not vaccinated”.
Jews were forced by Nazi Germany to wear a yellow Star of David.
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said that although many protesters were peaceful, discontent among unvaccinated people and opponents of restrictions was increasing.
“There are worried citizens who want to express their discontent. But there is also a group who tries to hijack these demonstrations, and that is the extreme right,” he said.
Mr Nehammer said hooligans had clashed with police, and revealed that death threats had been made against Austria’s chancellor and health minister because of the restrictions.
About 66 per cent of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lower rates in Western Europe.
Vaccination will become compulsory in Austria from February.
Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy for the World Health Organisation, said the UN agency was worried by polarised opinion on the virus.
“There’s only one way to deal with this, and that’s partnerships between governments and people,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Of course, if that’s going to be turned into polarisation, that gets to be extremely challenging.”
Asked about compulsory vaccinations, he said he wished they were not necessary but could become so if health systems came under strain from treating the unvaccinated.
About 35,000 people protested in Brussels on Sunday, when Belgian police fired tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators.
The rally became violent after many of the protesters left, but some remained to smash cars and set bins on fire.
Although Belgium has stopped short of locking down, it has ordered citizens to work from home where possible and extended mask requirements.
In the Netherlands, where the government has ordered businesses to close early, more than 130 people were arrested during three nights of unrest at the weekend.
In Denmark, about 1,000 people expressed their anger at the return of vaccine certificates for civil servants.
In Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, on Saturday there was public anger and demonstrations against mandatory vaccinations and Covid passes for public-sector workers.