The Austrian government will bar citizens who have not received a COVID-19 vaccination from entering hotels, restaurants, hair salons, and attending public events with 25 or more people.
The new rules came into effect on Nov. 8. During the first four weeks after the implementation of the new rules, any person who has received at least a single shot of COVID-19 vaccine or show results from a PCR test will be allowed into hotels and other places as well as be permitted to attend events. After four weeks, only those who are fully vaccinated with two doses of an approved vaccine or have recovered from COVID-19 will be allowed these freedoms.
Justifying the discriminatory laws, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg stated that it is “our responsibility” to protect people in the country. “We’re going to have to tighten the reins on the unvaccinated… The occupancies of intensive-care beds are increasing significantly faster than we had expected,” Schallenberg said. He asked unvaccinated individuals to get vaccinated, terming it as a “moral responsibility.”
The COVID-19 situation in the country has been worsening in recent weeks. The number of daily new infections per million people rose from 202.32 on Oct. 1 to 835.78 on Nov. 7, an increase of over 400 percent in just over a month. The daily new confirmed deaths per million has more than doubled from 0.96 to 2.29 during this period. This surge in infections has taken place despite the fact that 60 percent of the Austrian population have been fully vaccinated since Oct. 1. Austria has also announced booster shots for all adults.
Schallenberg indicated that more restrictions on unvaccinated individuals could be imposed if the pandemic were to worsen. Last month, the Chancellor stated that the government will implement lockdown restrictions on unvaccinated individuals if a third of the ICU capacity gets filled. The tougher rules are also applicable to unvaccinated tourists.
Authorities have stepped up police checks to ensure people comply with the new rules. According to interior minister Karl Nehammer, 800 more police officers will be added to the existing force of 4,000 who are on patrol to check compliance. A business found to have broken the rules can be fined up to 30,000 euros (US$34,700) while customers may be fined up to 500 euros (US$578).
“For those who keep to all the measures, it’s more than unfair if there are people who think they can simply circumvent or even fool health authorities, the health ministry and experts’ guidelines,” Nehammer told AP News.
Many Austrians are unhappy about the restrictive rules. “Honestly, I’m pissed off… at 80 years old, after all, what could possibly happen to me?” an unvaccinated man who was stopped by the police for not possessing a valid pass told Euro News.
Meanwhile, the capital city of Vienna will start vaccinating kids as young as five years old although the European Union has not approved vaccinations for citizens below the age of 12. Beginning Nov. 12, children will be administered Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Through 34 vaccination centers, up to 200 children can be inoculated per day. “Demand for Covid vaccinations for children is high,” Peter Hacker, a Viennese public health official, told the NYT.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has placed Austria in a level 4 category, indicating that there is a “very high” level of COVID-19 in the country. “Because of the current situation in Austria, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” the agency warned.