Austria will go into a nationwide lockdown on Monday and impose a coronavirus vaccination mandate in February, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Friday. It is the first such lockdown in a European nation since the spring, and the first national vaccine mandate on the continent.
“Nobody wants a lockdown — the lockdown is the very last resort, a crude instrument,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said. “A lockdown is always an imposition, but it is the most reliable instrument we have to break this fourth wave.”
The measures, reminiscent of those that European nations put in place before Covid vaccines were available, follow other recent restrictions that have done little to lower the rate of infection.
In a sign of soaring worry over the latest outbreak, Austria just days ago went a step further than most countries by announcing a lockdown on unvaccinated people. Requiring people to be vaccinated against Covid starting on Feb. 1 broke new ground again.
“For a long time, the political consensus has been that we do not want compulsory vaccinations in this country,” Mr. Schallenberg said when announcing the new measures. “But we have to face reality.”
Austria has one of Europe’s highest national infection rates — with 14,212 new coronavirus cases registered in 24 hours on Thursday — and one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe. Just 66 percent of the country’s population is fully inoculated.
Under the new lockdown, most aspects of public life will be suspended for at least 10 days. The measure will affect both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
People will be allowed to leave their homes only for vital purposes such as shopping for groceries, going to work or getting a basic level of exercise. Only supermarkets and stores selling essentials will be allowed to remain open.
The lockdown for unvaccinated people will remain in place after the full lockdown expires, Mr. Schallenberg said.