VIENNA (Reuters) -Austria’s government is likely to decide on Sunday to impose a lockdown on people who are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as daily infections have surged to record levels, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Friday.
Schallenberg did not say when the lockdown would take effect, but the two provinces hardest-hit by this wave of infections, Upper Austria and Salzburg, will introduce the measure for themselves on Monday.
Roughly 65% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament.
“The aim is very clear: that we give the green light this Sunday for a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Schallenberg, a conservative, told a news conference, adding that intensive-care units are increasingly strained.
“The development is such that I do not think it is sensible to wait … We will take this step now and my wish is that we take this step on Sunday and nationally for all nine provinces.”
Schallenberg said on Thursday the unvaccinated would face the same restrictions on their daily movements that the whole country endured in three lockdowns last year.
Schallenberg wants to avoid placing further restrictions on those who are vaccinated to encourage holdouts to get a shot. Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said health workers will be required to get vaccinated.
In possibly a bigger blow to Austria’s economy than the planned lockdown its biggest source of tourists, Germany, will classify the country a high-risk region as of Sunday, imposing a quarantine on people arriving from there. Austria is a popular destination for winter sports.
Infections are surging across Europe as colder weather sets in and Netherlands is expected to announce a three-week partial lockdown that would apply to the whole population.
(Reporting by Francois MurphyEditing by Jon Boyle, Andrei Khalip and Frances Kerry)