Austria enters nationwide lockdown amid soaring Covid cases

Violence in Belgium and Netherlands as Covid protests erupt across Europe

Austria has entered a nationwide lockdown to combat soaring coronavirus cases.

The measures require people to stay home apart from basic reasons like getting groceries, going to the doctor and exercising.

Restaurants and most shops must close and larger events will be cancelled. Schools and day care centres can remain open, but parents are encouraged to keep their children home.

It is expected that the rules will last for a maximum of 20 days — until December 13 — but will be re-evaluated after 10.


It comes after the nation reported 15,297 new infections, a week after the number of daily cases topped 10,000, on Saturday.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg also announced on Friday that Austria will also introduce a vaccine mandate as of February 1st. The details of how the mandate will work are not yet clear.

In an interview on Sunday in the Kurier newspaper, Mr Schallenberg said it was “sad” the Austrian government had to resort to a mandate to ensure enough people get vaccinated.

Just under 66 per cent of Austria's 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Hospitals, especially those in the hardest hit regions of Salzburg and upper Austria, are overwhelmed as the number of coronavirus patients rises in intensive care units.

Mr Schallenberg said he and other officials had hoped this summer that a new lockdown would not be necessary and it was a tough decision to impose one that affected vaccinated people.

“That people’s freedoms need to be restricted again is, believe me, also difficult for me to bear,” he said.

The new measures, especially the vaccine mandate, have been met with fierce opposition among some Austrians and vaccine sceptics.

A protest on Saturday in the capital of Vienna drew 40,000 people, according to police, including members of far-right parties and groups.

Meanwhile, violence erupted at demonstrations in Belgium and the Netherlands over the weekend over new Covid restrictions.

Ten of thousands of people marched through central Brussels on Sunday to protest against reinforced restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter the latest rise in coronavirus cases. The march, which police estimated involved 35,000 people, began peacefully but descended into violence as several hundred people started pelting officers, smashing cars and setting rubbish bins on fire. Police responded with teargas and water cannon.

"We have injuries but we cannot yet say how many," said Ilse Vande Keere, a police spokeswoman. It was also unclear how many people had been detained.

It followed a second night of violence in the Netherlands on Saturday, when five police officers were injured and at least 40 people arrested. Dutch authorities deployed water cannon, dogs and mounted police to dispel crowds of rioting youths who lit fires and lobbed fireworks in The Hague and elsewhere, after more than 50 people were arrested in Rotterdam on Friday.

There were also demonstrations in Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Croatia and the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe as governments in various EU countries battle a fourth wave of the pandemic, imposing partial lockdowns and tighter restrictions, particularly on the unvaccinated.

Police said on Sunday that 19 people had been arrested in The Hague in protests triggered by government plans to restrict a national coronavirus pass required to enter bars, restaurants and other venues to people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 – excluding those with a negative test. – Agencies