Austria took what its leader called the “dramatic” step Monday of implementing a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who haven’t recently had COVID-19.
The move, which took effect at midnight, prohibits people 12 years old and up who haven’t been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19 from leaving their homes except for basic activities such as working, grocery shopping, going for a walk — or getting vaccinated.
The lockdown is initially being imposed until Nov. 24 in the country of 8.9 million. It doesn’t apply to children under 12 because they cannot yet officially get vaccinated — though the capital, Vienna, on Monday opened up vaccinations for under-12s as part of a pilot, and reported high demand.
Officials have said that police patrols will be stepped up and unvaccinated people can be fined up to €1,450 (roughly $2,080 Cdn) if they violate the lockdown.
“We really didn’t take this step lightly and I don’t think it should be talked down,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told Oe1 radio. “This is a dramatic step — about two million people in this country are affected … what we are trying is precisely to reduce contact between the unvaccinated and vaccinated to a minimum, and also contact between the unvaccinated.”
“My aim is very clearly to get the unvaccinated to get themselves vaccinated and not to lock down the vaccinated,” Schallenberg added. “In the long term, the way out of this vicious circle we are in — and it is a vicious circle, we are stumbling from wave to lockdown, and that can’t carry on ad infinitum — is only vaccination.”
About 65 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, a rate that Schallenberg has described as “shamefully low.”
Authorities are concerned about rising infections and increasing pressure on hospitals. Austria on Sunday recorded 849.2 new cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days. Its situation is far worse than that of neighbouring Germany, where case rates on Monday hit the latest in a string of records, with 303 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
On Thursday, the German parliament is due to vote on a new legal framework for coronavirus restrictions drawn up by the parties that are expected to form the country’s next government. Those plans are reportedly being beefed up to allow tougher contact restrictions than originally envisioned.
Germany has struggled to bring new momentum to its vaccination campaign, with just over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, and is trying to ramp up booster shots.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday morning, more than 253.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The online database showed more than 5.1 million reported deaths.
In the Asia-Pacific region, China has confined nearly 1,500 university students to their dormitories and hotels following an outbreak of COVID-19 in the northeastern city of Dalian.
The order was issued Sunday after several dozen cases were reported at Zhuanghe University City and hundreds of students were transferred to hotels for observation. Students were attending class remotely and having their meals delivered to their rooms.
The lockdown is the latest example of China’s zero-tolerance approach to the outbreak, which has brought considerable disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods.
Cambodia, meanwhile, became the latest country in Asia to end strict quarantine and travel measures for vaccinated arrivals, giving hope to businesses in the pandemic-hit tourism industry.
In Africa, South Africa’s health ministry on Sunday reported 262 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths, bringing the total number of reported deaths in the country to 89,484.
In Europe, Britain’s government extended its COVID-19 booster programs to younger people Monday, hoping to stave off a fresh wave of infections during the colder winter months. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said people aged 40 to 49 will also be eligible for a vaccine booster shot six months after their initial shot. People 50 and over had previously been eligible.
In the Middle East, Bahrain has approved the emergency use of AstraZeneca’s anti-COVID drug Evusheld, the state news agency reported on Sunday.
In the Americas, Florida lawmakers will meet in a special legislative session on Monday, called by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis with the goal of thwarting coronavirus vaccine mandates.
In a week-long session, the lawmakers, largely from the Republican Party, are slated to consider four bills that would impose new penalties on businesses and local governments that require workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the agenda released by the governor’s office.
-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:10 a.m. ET