Unvaccinated Austrians ages 12 and older awoke on Monday morning confined to their homes for all but essential activities, as one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in Europe went into effect to battle a surge in infections.
Under new rules announced by the government on Sunday, adults and minors 12 and older who have not been vaccinated or recovered from a coronavirus infection cannot go outside except to buy groceries, seek medical care or travel to school or work. They are the toughest of a new wave of restrictions across Europe, as governments try to contain near-record numbers of cases.
“Our task as the federal government is to protect the people of Austria. We are fulfilling this responsibility,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference on Sunday.
The move was described as temporary, but the government did not immediately say how long it would remain in effect.
About 65 percent of Austria’s 8.9 million people are vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe, according to the Our World in Data Project at the University of Oxford. Over the past two weeks, average daily cases have risen by 134 percent to nearly 11,000, the highest since the pandemic began.
Mr. Schallenberg said that the vaccination rate was a significant cause of the spike in infections, and added that cases among the vaccinated were decreasing. Since February, unvaccinated people account for 83 percent of symptomatic infections, according to Austrian officials.
Speaking on Monday, Mr. Schallenberg said that there were no immediate plans to expand restrictions for vaccinated people. That ran counter to a suggestion by his health minister, who said that the government might consider a more generalized lockdown, such as closing bars or restaurants.
“My aim is very clearly to get the unvaccinated to get themselves vaccinated and not to lock down the vaccinated,” Mr. Schallenberg told Austria’s Ö1 radio, according to The Associated Press. “In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown, and that can’t carry on ad infinitum — is only vaccination.”
Europe, which threw off lockdowns this summer but has seen vaccination rates level off, is “back at the epicenter of the pandemic globally,” Hans Kluge, the regional director for the World Health Organization, said last week. The continent accounted for 59 percent of the world’s newly reported coronavirus cases last week, and for nearly half the world’s Covid-related deaths, the organization said.
Over the weekend, the three parties that are set to form the next government in Germany agreed to impose stricter rules against unvaccinated people, including mandating that they obtain a negative coronavirus test before traveling on buses or trains, as infection rates reach new records. Spain’s Basque region is also expected on Tuesday to announce new restrictions on gatherings in municipalities with the highest infection rates.
But Austria’s move stands out as among the toughest imposed in Europe or elsewhere in the world, experts said. In Britain, where cases have risen sharply since May, the Conservative lawmaker Oliver Dowden said on Sky News on Monday that the government would not follow Austria’s lead, saying that “we have no plans to have that kind of differentiated approach between” between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
Robert West, a professor of health psychology at University College London, said that Austria’s rules might encourage more people to get vaccinated, but risked eroding trust in the government.
“It’s sort of like jumping in with the nuclear option without having considered the other options,” he said, adding that it would have been better to address the causes of vaccine skepticism among parts of the Austrian public.
“I think this is a disaster on all fronts,” he said.
Isabella Kwai and Raphael Minder contributed reporting.
Source : Nytimes