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Austria announces vaccine mandate and reimposes lockdown

Austria announces vaccine mandate and reimposes lockdown

Austria is going back into a national lockdown and plans to become the first country in Europe to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for all eligible people as the nation's coronavirus crisis deepens, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced Friday (Nov 19).

Schallenberg said his government would look to impose the national vaccine requirement from Feb 1. Just under 66% of Austria's total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, one of the lower rates in the European Union, where cases are surging.

The national lockdown – the first in Europe this fall – starts Monday (Nov 22) and will last for 10 days minimum, and could be extended for a further 10 days, Schallenberg told reporters at a news conference in Vienna.

"We don't want a fifth wave. We don't want a sixth and seventh wave. We don't want to have this discussion next summer," Schallenberg said.

The move comes only days after Austria took the step, unprecedented in Europe, of imposing lockdown measures for all those age 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Under those measures, which came into force on Nov 15, the unvaccinated were ordered to stay at home except for a few limited reasons, with the rules policed by officers carrying out spot checks on those who were out and about.

Vaccinations are currently recommended for everyone aged 12 and above in Austria. On Monday, a pilot scheme to vaccinate children aged five to 11 got under way in Vienna, the national capital.

Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said Friday that schools and kindergartens would remain open during the upcoming national lockdown.

But Schallenberg said it was possible for parents to take their children out of school if they so wished. "This is always a challenge, for every family," he said. During the first Austrian lockdown, schools and kindergartens were closed.

Once the national lockdown is lifted, lockdown measures will remain in place for unvaccinated Austrians, Mückstein said, adding that everything needed to be done to avoid a "fifth wave."