The Austrian government ordered all eligible Austrians aged 12 and up to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by February next year or face fines up to $4,000 or risk imprisonment.
The national lockdown, which started on November 22, will last for a minimum of 10 days. If it does not produce the desired results, it could be extended for another 10 days, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said. The lockdown, however, will last longer for the unvaccinated.
Schallenberg added that the decision was "painful," but that he had no other choice.
Media reports noted that Austrian authorities have already repeatedly promised that they would not impose new restrictions for those who have already gotten the vaccine. This past summer, then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared the pandemic over for vaccinated individuals.
A local media report also noted that the government has tightened the existing restrictions while also introducing new measures.
For instance, businesses deemed nonessential and most retail stores have been ordered to close. Cultural events have also been canceled. Austrians are only allowed to leave their homes for legitimate reasons, such as going to work, buying groceries or getting a COVID-19 vaccine. (Related: New study suggests vaccine effectiveness drops to zero after seven months.)
While the country is not planning on closing its borders, it will subject visitors to the same regulations – including wearing FFP2 masks in all indoor venues.
Kindergartens and schools will remain open for "those who need it," but Health Minister Wolfgang Muckstein suggested that parents keep their children at home if possible. Authorities said a return to distance learning is possible in cases when the whole school chooses to stay home.
Universities are not subject to government regulations and will remain closed for the duration of the lockdown. It will only offer laboratory and artistic activities in person.
Employees that are considered at high risk of getting infected with COVID could request the option of working from home if possible.
Austria is the first country in Europe, with the exception of the Vatican, that will require all eligible populations to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The punishments for violators are still being worked on, but a draft of the legislation aimed at regulating the issue showed that people could face a fine of up to €3,600 ($4,061) or four-week imprisonment. Austrians who fail to receive their booster shots on time could also face a fine of up to €1,450 ($1,635) or four weeks of jail time.
The draft also showed that some categories of public workers will be prioritized to receive vaccines. Among them are healthcare practitioners such as doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives, paramedics, pharmacists and others.
"We haven't been able to convince enough people to vaccinate. For too long, I and others have assumed that you can convince people to get vaccinated. For a long time, the political consensus was not to introduce mandatory vaccination, but we must look reality in the eyes," Schallenberg said.
COVID infection rate has risen again in the country, with 15,809 new cases logged on November 19 alone.
Commenting on the COVID situation in Europe, the World Health Organization warned of a different winter on the horizon, saying that "this public health emergency is far from being over."
Get more updates about the coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.