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.

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