Europe

Austria's focus shifts to full lockdown as COVID-19 cases keep rising

2 minute read

Pedestrians walk along a shopping street after the Austrian government placed roughly two million people who are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on lockdown, in Vienna, Austria, November 17, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

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  • Provinces of Upper Austria and Salzburg are hardest hit
  • Those provinces plan a joint lockdown from next week
  • Governors meet Chancellor Schallenberg on Friday
  • Infections still setting records far above previous peak

VIENNA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Pressure on Austria's government to impose a full COVID-19 lockdown grew on Thursday as its worst-hit provinces said they would adopt the measure for themselves since infections are still rising despite the current lockdown for the unvaccinated.

Roughly 66% of Austria's population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people.

As winter approaches, cases have surged across Europe, prompting governments to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns. The Netherlands has imposed a partial lockdown that applies to all, but Austria has sought not to impose extra restrictions on the fully vaccinated.

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"We have very, very little room for manoeuvre," the conservative governor of Upper Austria, Thomas Stelzer, told the province's parliament, referring to its strained intensive-care units.

Upper Austria, a stronghold of the far-right and vaccine-criticising Freedom Party, has the country's highest infection rate and its lowest vaccination rate. It and neighbouring Salzburg are the hardest-hit of Austria's nine provinces. Both border Germany.

"If no national lockdown is ordered tomorrow, there will definitely have to be a lockdown of several weeks in Upper Austria together with our neighbouring province Salzburg as of next week," Stelzer said.

The conservative-led provincial government of Salzburg, which this week said it was preparing for a possible triage situation in which the number of people needing intensive-care beds exceeds supply, confirmed in a statement that it is planning a joint lockdown with Upper Austria.

Austria's governors are holding a meeting on Friday with conservative Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.

Daily infections on Thursday reached a new record of 15,145. The biggest wave before this peaked at 9,586 a year ago, when Austria went into full lockdown.

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Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Giles Elgood

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