Austria orders full lockdown and first mandatory vaccination in Europe

Continent is grappling with a fourth wave of Covid

Austria is to enter another nationwide lockdown due to soaring infection and death rates, the country’s chancellor has confirmed.

Alexander Schallenberg said the shutdown aimed at containing a fourth wave of Covid-19 will begin on Monday for 10 days, with the possibility of an extension.

He said it would run for a “maximum of 20 days”.

He also announced it would be a "requirement to get vaccinated" in Austria from February 1 next year.

The rule, which will apply to all adults, could prove divisive, with Austria only the fifth nation to introduce such a measure.

Indonesia, Micronesia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have already announced that vaccines will be mandatory for their populations.

Austria's decision to tighten restrictions comes as Europe grapples with another wave of Covid-19 infections as the colder weather sets in.

Germany has called a “nationwide state of emergency” because of surging coronavirus infection rates, the head of the country’s disease control agency said.

Lothar Wieler, of the Robert Koch Institute, said regular medical care cannot be guaranteed any more in some parts of the country because hospitals and intensive care wards are overstretched.

He called on authorities to introduce more measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 cases, which exceeded 50,000 for the third day running.

The announcement of Austria's fourth lockdown sent European stock on a downward spiral on Friday and the euro slumped, triggering heavy losses for oil prices.

European stocks "turned red ... as a new lockdown in Austria and the prospect of similar action in Germany wiped out earlier gains", said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda trading group.

Austria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, with only 66 per cent of its 8.9 million citizens having received two doses.

“We do not want a fifth wave,” Mr Schallenberg said.

From next week, pupils will return to home-schooling and anyone who can work from home will be required to do so.

Restaurants, bars and gyms will close and cultural events will be cancelled.

Last weekend, Mr Schallenberg announced a lockdown for unvaccinated adults in a bid to encourage more people to come forward to be inoculated against the virus.

The crisis gripping the country was laid bare in reports that nurses in a hospital in the city of Linz had resorted to storing bodies in corridors as the mortuary ran out of space.

"There were so many deaths at the weekend that ... we had to put the corpses in the aisle,” one nurse told the Kronen newspaper.

Several European countries have tightened restrictions due to surging numbers of cases and deaths across the continent.

People in Germany told to 'stay home when you can'

Germany is also recording rising numbers cases and has unveiled new measures to slow the infection rate.

Politicians in the Bundestag on Thursday passed legislation to curb the virus with votes from the centre-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats.

The three parties are currently negotiating to form a new government.

The new measures include requirements for employees to prove they are vaccinated, recently recovered from Covid-19 or have tested negative for the virus, to access communal workplaces. A similar rule will apply to public transport.

German states are also considering mandatory vaccinations for some professional groups such as medical staff and nursing home employees.

Mr Wieler was sceptical over whether the current rules would be enough to bring down the number of daily cases.

He called the situation a "nationwide state of emergency" and said tougher measures were urgently needed.

Mr Wieler called for big events to be cancelled, clubs and bars to be closed and private contacts limited to slow the spread of Covid-19.

He also said people should “stay home when they can”.

“All of Germany is one big outbreak,” Mr Wieler told reporters in Berlin.

“This is a nationwide state of emergency. We need to pull the emergency brake.”

A hospital in Bavaria was forced to transfer one of its Covid-19 patients to Italy as it had exceeded its capacity.

“Last week, on Wednesday or Thursday, we had to transfer a patient by helicopter to Merano,” Thomas Marx, medical director at the hospital in Freising, told thelocal.de.

The move marked a dramatic shift from the height of the pandemic in Europe, when Germany’s healthcare system was hailed as a leader of the pack.

Italy, which was overwhelmed by the coronavirus in the early stages of the crisis, was forced to transfer patients to German hospitals for treatment as its own healthcare system buckled under the strain of the pandemic.

The German Air Force confirmed a report by daily newspaper Bild that it was preparing to help transfer patients to clinics with free beds.

Updated: November 19th 2021, 12:46 PM
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