Germany: Expert suggests lockdown as Covid cases surge

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Austrians who are not fully vaccinated are fast heading towards a lockdown. If approved, the EU country will become the first to impose such a measure.

The idea of a nationwide lockdown exclusively for the unvaccinated was first discussed by the conservative-led government in September.

It was agreed the rule would enter effect when 30 percent of ICU beds became occupied by COVID-19 patients.

With the number currently at just over 20 percent — and rising — Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Thursday a decision would be made on Sunday.

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He told a news conference: “According to the incremental plan we actually have just days until we have to introduce the lockdown for unvaccinated people.”

Austria’s vaccination rate, with some 3.1 million people — 25 percent of the population — not fully jabbed, is one of the lowest in Europe.

According to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control data, Liechtenstein is the only Western European country with a lower rate.

The country’s province with the lowest vaccination rate — Upper Austria — also boasts the highest infection rate.

Mr Schallenberg, describing the rate as “shamefully low”, said the potential lockdown would mean unvaccinated Austrians will not be allowed to leave home “unless going to work, shopping for essentials” or “stretching” their legs.

Restaurants, theatres, ski lifts and providers of “services close to the body” like hairdressers may as soon as next week be a no-go for the unvaccinated.

He added: “Exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020.”

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Mr Schallenberg’s restriction proposal is facing national opposition from the right-wing Freedom Party and local opposition from the newly-formed People, Freedom, Rights party.

The chancellor, from the Austrian People’s Party, was only sworn in a month ago as he took over from Sebastian Kurz, who resigned amid a corruption probe.

Other nations have used heavy-handed methods to foster vaccination compliance, too.

Some EU countries, such as France, have made proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars and entertainment venues commonplace, and the US has pressed private employers to enforce vaccination among staff.

In New Zealand, meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has explicitly supported a “two-tier” system of freedom for the vaccinated and restrictions for the unvaccinated.

When Ms Ardern presented the new COVID-19 response model — which has not been imposed as of yet —, a New Zealand Herald journalist suggested the new system would mean “two different classes of people if you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated”.

Ms Arden responded: “That is what it is.”

Austria’s model is set to spark debate among those sceptical about or opposed to the vaccine.

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