Austria: Expert discusses decision to go into lockdown
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Austria will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full coronavirus lockdown, it said on Friday as neighbouring Germany warned it may follow suit, sending shivers through financial markets worried about the economic fallout.
Europe has again become the epicentre of the pandemic, accounting for half of global cases and deaths. A fourth wave of infections has plunged Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a national emergency, Health Minister Jens Spahn said, warning that vaccinations alone will not cut case numbers.
Austria said it in addition to lockdown it would require the whole population to be vaccinated from February 1.
The move has sparked fears others in Europe could soon follow suit.
In the UK, Conservative MP David Jones has warned: “Austria is sadly playing with fire in making vaccination mandatory.
“We in this country must never go down that route.
“Compulsory vaccine is outlawed under the Public Health Act 1984.
“It must remain so.”
Both decisions infuriated many in a country where scepticism about state mandates affecting individual freedoms runs high, encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament.
Party leader Herbert Kickl posted a picture on Facebook with the inscription: “As of today Austria is a dictatorship.”
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The party is planning a protest on Saturday, but Kickl cannot attend because he has tested positive for COVID-19.
Roughly two-thirds of those eligible in Austria are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.
Its infections are among the highest in Europe, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference: “We have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated.”
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He added the lockdown would start on Monday and the requirement to be vaccinated on February 1.
He said: “It hurts that such measures still have to be taken.”
Asked if Germany could rule out an Austrian-style full lockdown, Spahn said: “We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out.
“We are in a national emergency.”
The threat of fresh lockdowns comes as optimism grows about experimental drugs developed by Pfizer and Merck that cut the chance of hospitalisation and severe illness, more weapons in the world’s fight against the virus.
On Friday, the EU drug regulator said it was reviewing data on Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill to help member states decide on quick adoption ahead of any formal EU-wide approval.
Looming lockdowns weighed on a range of financial market sectors on Friday, pushing stocks and oil down and boosting the dollar.
Britain, with higher numbers of infections than most countries in Europe, is rolling out third shots – or boosters – to offset waning protection from the first two and help keep the economy open.
While the new measures across Europe are not seen hitting the economy as much as the all-out lockdowns of last year, analysts say they could weigh on the recovery in the last quarter, especially if they hurt the retail and hospitality sectors over Christmas.
A full lockdown in Germany would be more serious, however.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday Germany will limit large parts of public life in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of COVID-19 patients to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness.
Tens of thousands of people, many of them far-right supporters, protested in Vienna on Saturday.
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