The Austrian government is implementing stricter COVID-19 measures against the unvaccinated, working on the assumption that the pandemic is being worsened largely due to the presence of unvaccinated individuals.
COVID-19 cases in Austria have ballooned over the past several weeks. Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 20, the country’s daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million jumped from 202.32 to 1492.40, an increase of over 700 percent. Confirmed daily new COVID-19 deaths per million rose from 0.96 to 4.80 during the same period.
The government has announced new lockdown measures beginning on Nov. 22 that will be targeted at all citizens, irrespective of whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated. The lockdown will last until Dec. 12, after which restrictions will only remain in place for unvaccinated individuals, indefinitely. Between Nov. 22 and Dec. 12, all citizens are to remain at home, only venturing out for essential purposes. Schools will remain open.
In addition, the Austrian government is considering making vaccination mandatory in the country as of Feb. 2022. All unvaccinated individuals would have to submit to a vaccination starting in February. It is not clear what the punishment for violating this rule would be. Around 34 percent of the country’s population remains unvaccinated.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg blamed unvaccinated individuals for the spread of COVID-19. Speaking to reporters, the chancellor insisted that the country doesn’t want a “fifth wave… sixth wave and seventh wave” and that he doesn’t want to discuss COVID-19 by next summer.
“We have too many political forces in this country that are fighting against this [vaccination] vehemently, massively, and publicly. That is irresponsible. This is actually an attack on our health care system… And incited by these radical opponents of vaccination, by specious fake news, unfortunately too many of us have not been vaccinated. The consequence is overcrowded intensive care units and enormous human suffering,” Schallenberg said.
Some have welcomed the government’s decision. Walter Hasibeder, president of the Society for Anesthesiology, Resuscitation and Intensive Care Medicine, told a local news agency that there are “no alternatives” to vaccination given current infection developments. Over the past few days, Austria has been registering 10,000 new infections per day.
“The record infection figures that we have now experienced day after day will only be reflected in normal and intensive care units with a time lag. It really is high time for a full stop,” Hasibeder said.
Thousands march in Austria
However, the new COVID-19 measures have not gone over well with a section of the population. Thousands marched in opposition to COVID-19 restrictions in a recent protest in Vienna. Though police stationed to oversee the protestors asked them to wear face masks, the protesters dismissed their instructions.
One sign read, “We’re Standing Up for Our Kids!” while another stated, “My Body. My Choice.” Some blew whistles and chanted “resistance.” Many waved the national flag and mocked the chancellor. “As of today, Austria is a dictatorship,” Herbert Kickl, leader of the Freedom Party (FPO), said in a statement.
In an interview with the NY Times, one of the protestors, Katja Schoissenger, said that she was angry at the limitations imposed on unvaccinated individuals. Schoissenger is a mother of two and participated in the protest holding signs that read “Freedom, Peace, and Humanity.”
“Society is being massively divided and set against a group of people who are being shut out of public life and forced to do things we don’t want to do… I have nothing against people who want to be vaccinated. It is a free decision, and I think that’s OK and legitimate, but I am a young, healthy person and it’s not an issue for me,” Schoissenger stated.