Austria will mandate COVID-19 shots, lock down

Austria will mandate COVID-19 shots, lock down

Austria will mandate COVID-19 shots, lock down

VIENNA - The government of Austria has announced a national lockdown and a plan to mandate vaccinations as coronavirus infections hit a record high Friday.

While the scope of the proposed mandate was unclear, a blanket requirement would be a first for a Western country. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said those who didn’t comply would likely be fined but gave no other details.

The moves come as vaccinations in Austria have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe, and as hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity. Average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks — though the number of fatalities reported over the past week remains well below the high of last winter and 13 U.S. states are already seeing more deaths per 100,000 people.

Earlier this month, Schallenberg indicated a full lockdown would not be needed and instead imposed the restrictions only on those not vaccinated.

The lockdown will start Monday and initially will last for 10 days, when it will be reevaluated, Schallenberg said. Starting Feb. 1, the country will also make vaccinations mandatory — though the chancellor gave few details about what that meant or how it would work.

Not quite 66% of Austria's 8.9 million are fully vaccinated, according to government figures. It has tried various measures to boost that further. Like many European countries, it introduced a “green pass” — which shows proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or a negative test result and was required to enter restaurants and attend cultural events.

A wide vaccine mandate would make Austria's one of the most stringent requirements in the world — but many countries have imposed targeted mandates or restrictions on what unvaccinated people can do.

The U.S. government is moving forward with a requirement for mandatory vaccines or regular testing for every worker in the country at businesses with more than 100 employees — though opponents have challenged it in court.

Austria's new lockdown is its fourth since the pandemic began and comes as the country has struggled without success to stop spiraling case numbers. On Friday, the country reported 15,809 new infections, an all-time high.

When it takes effect early Monday, restaurants, Christmas markets and most stores will close, and cultural events will be canceled. People will be able to leave their homes only for certain reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.