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Austria becomes first EU member to order nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Maskless people walk down a shopping street amid COVID-19 outbreak in Vienna, Austria, on December 7, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Austria is set to tighten its coronavirus restrictions, becoming the first country in the European Union (EU) to impose a compulsory lockdown on the unvaccinated people.

About two million people not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the country have been placed in lockdown with fresh surge in cases, and children aged between 5 and 11 are being inoculated.

The decision, coming into effect at midnight on Sunday, prohibits unvaccinated people from leaving their homes except for essential activities such as working, or getting vaccinated.

The measure is aimed at slowing the fast spread of the disease in the country.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the lockdown will initially last for 10 days, with the police checking people on the streets to make sure they are vaccinated.

"We are not taking this step lightly, but unfortunately it is necessary," Schallenberg was quoted as saying on Monday.

“With the vaccination rates as they are, we will stay stuck in a vicious cycle” of infections,  he said, adding that the uptake in vaccination has been “shamefully low.”

About 65% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated - one of the lowest rates in western Europe, and the seven-day infection rate is more than 800 cases per 100,000, one of the highest in the region.

In less than two months, daily infection rate in Austria has risen from 2,000 to 12,000, prompting the government to consider new restrictions.

The nationwide lockdown in Austria, however, has sparked anger among citizens, forcing hundreds of people into the streets in Vienna to protest against the stringent rules.

“This restricts my life, my freedom. It’s time that more people spoke up,” Sabine, a 49-year-old energy consultant, told reporters at the rally, terming the move "discrimination".

Europe is fast emerging as the most seriously affected region by the coronavirus with several countries moving to introduce restrictions amid rising cases.

Netherlands has already announced the region’s first partial lockdown of the winter.

Nikolaus Unterguggenberger, a teacher from Carinthia province whose family is not vaccinated, criticized the new lockdown program for the unvaccinated, accusing the government of reinforcing a “two-class system.”

“Our freedoms are being taken away from us... I was afraid it would come to this, but that Austria so easily passes this, that surprises me,” he told AFP New Agency, adding that the measure was illegal and he would not obey it.

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig has warned that the situation is “serious” and the city needs to pursue a more “determined path.”

The development comes in the wake of World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest warning over steep jump in new deaths across Europe.

According to WHO figures, Europe reported almost two million new COVID-19 infections last week, marking the largest weekly case count in the continent since the start of the pandemic.

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