On Monday, Austria became the first EU country to confine people who have not received the Covid-19 vaccine. As a fourth wave hits Europe, the country also began vaccinating children as young as five.
To stop the spread of the virus and boost the vaccination rate of its population (65% to date), Austria is using all available means, the Belga News Agency reports.
Across the country, two million unvaccinated people began a new lockdown after Austria’s conservative chancellor Alexander Schallenberg decided to confine those who either had not been vaccinated or did not have antibodies after catching the virus.
As it stands, Austria is the only country in the European Union to go so far as to confine non-vaccinated people, after having already excluded them from restaurants, hotels and hairdressing salons.
The move has not been popular, with much of the population angered and criticising the government for what is seen as designating “scapegoats”.
“Mr Schallenberg is causing unrest, division and forcing people to take a dubious injection,” said doctor Christian Fiala, who is active in a collective called Initiative Corona Info.
A demonstration supported by the far-right FPÖ party, whose anti-vaccine leader has just announced that he is positive for Covid-19, is planned for next Saturday.
“It’s discrimination pure and simple,” Sabine, a 49-year-old energy consultant who did not want to give her last name, said at a previous rally on Sunday. “Of course, my life, my freedom is being restricted. This is not the right way to do it.
“I am here to send a message that we must fight back,” Sarah Hein, 30, a hospital worker, told AFP. “We want to work, we want to help people, but we don’t want to be vaccinated. It’s up to us.
Anyone who breaks the lockdown could be fined €500 while those refusing to be checked could face a penalty of €1,450.
Vienna takes the lead
At Vienna’s main vaccination centre, young children waited quietly on Monday to receive their first vaccine dose. Even though the European regulator has not yet given its approval for using the Pfizer-BioNTech serum in 5-11 year-olds, the city of Vienna has chosen to take the lead.
And the initiative has been well received on this holiday for schoolchildren in the capital. More than 10,000 appointments have already been made, according to Peter Hacker – municipal deputy for health – who inaugurated the programme earlier this morning.
“We feel reassured,” said Gerald Schwarzl, 41, who came with his two children including his five-year-old son. “We think they will be protected in the same way as they have been with other vaccines.”
The “situation is serious”, the head of government warned on Sunday. The country has seen a surge in new cases, which are now at the highest level since the start of the pandemic, with an average of 12,000 new infections per day in this country of 8.9 million inhabitants.