Austria the first country in Europe to impose mandatory COVID-19 shots
People may need to show proof of vaccination from February to clear basic bureaucratic hurdles like enrolling in school and other public institutions
Austria will again enter a nationwide lockdown and Germany is no longer ruling out a similar move as Europe grapples with a brutal wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Austria will become the first western European country to impose widespread restrictions after curbs on unvaccinated people failed to stem a surge in new infections. It will also become the first European country to mandate Covid-19 shots as it seeks to exit the crisis.
“There are too many among us who haven’t shown solidarity,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said in Tyrol after meeting with provincial governors. “Raising the vaccination rate is the only way to break this vicious circle.”
Almost simultaneously with Austria’s announcement, Germany’s top health official said Europe’s largest economy may also need to clamp down harder. Only on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government increased pressure on Germans to get inoculated by announcing plans to restrict many leisure activities for the unvaccinated.
“We’re in a situation in which we shouldn’t rule anything out,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said in Berlin Friday when asked whether another lockdown was possible.
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With available ICU beds at less than half the capacity compared with a year ago and Covid cases continuing to surge, Germany’s health system has become increasingly stretched. Merkel said Thursday that the country faces a “dramatic situation.”
“The whole of Germany is one big outbreak,” Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s RKI public-health institute, said Friday at the news conference with Spahn. “This is a national emergency.”
Only setting limits on unvaccinated people isn’t enough, Wieler said. He called on people to stay home, cancel large events, close hot spots such as poorly ventilated bars and clubs, reduce private contacts and avoid meeting people indoors.
Austria’s across-the-board curbs will start on Monday and last for at least 20 days. They will remain in force after that for people who’ve rejected inoculation, as the government takes a hard line with vaccine dissenters.
Schallenberg, who bemoaned fake news and anti-vaxxers, conceded that his public-health measures haven’t worked. Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein apologized for the decision that will send people into their fourth lockdown.
Compulsory vaccination will fall under Austrian administrative rather than criminal law, according to Schallenberg, who said that lawyers have yet to hammer out the details. That suggests people may need to show proof of vaccination from February to clear basic bureaucratic hurdles like enrolling in school and other public institutions.