VIENNA, Austria — Austria’s government said Friday it wanted a nationwide lockdown for those not vaccinated against or recovered from the coronavirus, while Vienna city authorities said they would start vaccinating children as young as five — a first in the EU.
Only around 65 percent of the population is fully vaccinated in Austria, a rate described by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg as “shamefully low”.
Salzburg and Upper Austria states, which have seen some of the worst case rates, are already introducing a lockdown for the unvaccinated from Monday. This means they will not be able to leave the house except for reasons such as buying essential supplies, exercise or seeking medical care.
“The aim is clear: we want on Sunday to give the green light for a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Schallenberg told a press conference.
He said lockdowns across the country would be enforced with “random” spot checks.
The measure will have to be signed off by parliament and a meeting of the heads of regional governments over the weekend before it can be rolled out across the country.
Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig said in a statement on Friday that the city authorities there would also be introducing extra measures in order to “keep in check… the dangerous development” of infection rates in the city.
Among these will be vaccinations for children between five and 11 as of Monday, making Vienna the first EU region to vaccinate children of this age.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet issued an authorisation for any of the vaccines to be used for this age group but member states have the right to do so anyway to respond to a public health emergency. In addition, Vienna residents will now be able to get a third booster vaccination only four months after their second dose, not six months as originally planned.
In order to attend events of more than 25 people or go to bars and restaurants in the city in the evening, not only will proof of vaccination or recovery be required but also the results of a PCR test no more than 48 hours old.
– ‘Protecting the majority’ –
Also on Friday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein announced he would order compulsory vaccination for health workers but did not specify when this would enter into force.
Mueckstein said that availability in intensive care units in the hardest-hit areas was becoming “ever scarcer”.
Schallenberg said the government had been reluctant to consider the latest measure but justified it by saying: “The majority of the population, who have done the right thing, who have protected themselves — now we have to protect them too.” “I don’t accept that the solidarity of the protected majority with the unprotected minority should go as far as a lockdown,” he said.
He called again on those who have not yet been vaccinated to get the jab.
Last week, the government had already said that only those vaccinated against or recovered from the virus would be allowed into restaurants, hotels and cultural venues.
Mueckstein said on Friday that vaccination numbers had increased in the past few days.
In elections in Upper Austria in September a party set up specifically to oppose coronavirus restrictions won six percent of votes and a seat in the regional assembly.
So far, more than 11,640 people infected with the coronavirus have died in Austria. On Wednesday the daily new case rate in the Alpine EU member of 8.9 million hit 11,398, the highest number recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.