Unvaccinated Austrians are likely going into lockdown in the next few days, the country is expected to announce. The Alpine country has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe with only 65 percent of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Following a surge in the number of cases and hospitalizations, the government is ready to trigger lockdown for those who have opted not to get vaccinated.
The plan was decided upon in September, weeks before the current chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, was sworn in. Once 30 percent of the intensive-care unit beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, the unvaccinated population will be placed in lockdown, restricting the level of activities they can do outside their home. The current level is 20 percent.
"According to the incremental plan we actually have just days until we have to introduce the lockdown for unvaccinated people," Schallenberg told a news conference on Thursday.
Austria's vaccination rate is "shamefully low", Schallenberg said, which means in the next few days over 3 million people will likely go into lockdown. They will be allowed to leave their home for work, shopping for essentials, and stretching their legs but won’t be able to go to restaurants, theaters, ski lifts, and any provider of "contact services" like hairdressers, etc.
The far-right Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) has been the main promoter of the nation's vaccine skepticism. One of the party’s strongholds, the province of Upper Austria, has the lowest vaccination and highest infection rate among the nine provinces that make up the country.
Its governor has announced that lockdown for the COVID unvaccinated will begin there on Monday, providing there is a green light from the federal government.
With almost 70,000 cases in the last week, and almost 12,000 yesterday alone, Austria is facing a COVID-19 wave unlike any it has experienced during the pandemic so far.