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

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
  • 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.

"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.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Giles Elgood

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