Austria has become the first European country to make Covid vaccines mandatory for everyone with the country’s health minister imposed full nationwide lockdown today.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg accused the un-jabbed of launching an ‘attack on the health system’, arguing that drastic measures are necessary to curb the country’s rapidly rising cases.
‘Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,’ Schallenberg told a news conference on Monday.
He spoke as it was revealed that Europe is now in the midst of its biggest-ever Covid wave as the continent’s one-day infection tally at a record high on Wednesday.
There were 310,000 Covid infections registered across the continent Wednesday, according to the Our World in Data site, which tops the previous one-day peak of 290,000 cases logged around the same time last year.
Meanwhile Italy became the latest country to target the unvaccinated for lockdown, with a government spokesman saying it is ‘inevitable’ they will face harsher restrictions when a new decree is published next week.
Meanwhile Ireland, which imposed a nigh-time curfew on hospitality businesses this week, has today placed its hospitals on a ‘war footing’ with routine operations cancelled to make room for Covid patients amid a warning from the country’s top doctor that intensive care medics face ‘unthinkable’ choices over who to give care to.
And Germany’s incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz said almost 30 million vaccines need to be administered before the end of the year to ward off the worst effects of the winter wave, which would require the country to more-than double the number of shots it currently gives each day.
He spoke a day after Germany put forward new rules that would restrict the movements of unvaccinated people in states where hospital admissions are high. The Bundestag is due to vote on the new laws today.
Austria’s lockdown will come into force from Monday and will mean the full closures of all non-essential retail, with workers told to work from home and schools – except for kindergartens and nurseries – shut.
People will also be barred from leaving their homes except for essential reasons.
The vaccine mandate will only kick in from February next year. It was not immediately clear what age groups would be included, though it is expected that they very young and those who are not able to receive vaccines due to immuno-deficiencies will also be exempt.
At the beginning of this week, Austria already began a lockdown for those not vaccinated or recently cured, becoming the first EU country to do so.
But infections have continued to rise. On Thursday, a new record of more than 15,000 new cases were recorded in the Alpine EU member of nearly nine million people.
Demand for vaccinations has increased in recent days, and 66 percent of the population are now fully jabbed, slightly below the EU average of more than 67 percent.
Othe European countries are also tightening the restrictions as cases surge across the continent.
Hungary, which neighbours Austria, is making wearing masks indoors again compulsory from Saturday, the government said Thursday.
The World Health Organization has described the continent as the ‘epicentre’ of the pandemic. The restrictions imposed in Germany last night mean only the double-jabbed, or holders of a recovery certificate, can attend restaurants, sporting venues and cultural events.
Germany’s clampdown will apply in regions where there are more than three Covid patients in hospital for every 100,000 people.
Saxony, the area hardest hit by the fourth wave, is considering shutting theatres and concert halls and postponing football games, Bild newspaper reported.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, warned Germans faced ‘a terrible Christmas’ without tighter restrictions.
‘Anyone who cannot see that is making a very big mistake,’ he said, pointing to yesterday’s record surge in infections of 65,371 cases in 24 hours.
Austria, too, hit a new peak on Thursday, recording 15,145. The Alpine nation, which has fully jabbed 63% of its population, issued a diktat earlier this week ordering the unvaccinated to stay at home.
They may leave their homes for essential reasons only and rule-breakers can be hit with fines as high as €1,450. Two regions, Upper Austria and Salzburg, announced full shutdowns yesterday, even for those who have been jabbed.
‘We no longer see any alternative to a lockdown,’ Salzburg governor Wilfried Haslauer said.The Netherlands and Belgium have also brought in a partial closure of their economies.
Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said: ‘All the alarm signals are red. Europe’s map is quickly going red.’
Marco Cavaleri of the European Medicines Agency said ‘unacceptable low vaccination rates’ in some countries as well as the Delta variant were driving up cases.