Austria toughens vaccination rules as Covid cases double in five days
Austria will make full vaccination mandatory for entry to restaurants, bars and entertainment spaces as the government struggles to contain the surge in Covid-19 cases.
Full vaccine status will also expire nine months after a second dose, instead of 12, the government said, unless it is extended by a booster.
The rules – which will also recognize those who have recovered from proven coronavirus infections – will go into effect on Monday.
Until now, entry to reception venues has been possible using the EU Green Pass Certificate – which may include proof of a recent negative PCR test.
“None of us have a crystal ball. . . but if we are to prevent another lockdown, we must act now, ”Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at a press conference on Friday evening, as he announced a tightening of the rules.
Consumer services that involve close personal contact, such as hairdressing and beauty care, as well as any organized gathering of more than 25 people, will require proof of full vaccination or recovery.
The number of new daily infections in Austria doubled in the space of just five days – on Monday 4,523 new cases were reported in the country and on Friday 9,388 cases.
The rapidly rising number of cases is expected to imminently eclipse Austria’s highest daily number of infections – 9,586 – seen in mid-November last year, to which the government responded with one of the strictest and most durable blockages in Europe.
The number of deaths has also increased in recent weeks. Although it has done so at a less alarming rate than in previous waves, Austria’s relatively low vaccination rate makes it a source of concern for public health authorities.
Health authorities in Lower Austria announced on Thursday that they were canceling all elective surgeries due to a shortage of beds.
One in three Austrians has not yet received a first dose of the vaccine.
Skepticism is relatively high in the country. Earlier this year, a new vaccine-skeptical political party, the MFG, won 6.4% of the vote, winning seats, in one of the country’s most important regional elections. Subsequent polls indicated that MFG’s result would be replicated nationally.
The vaccination rate in Austria has dropped significantly since the summer. Only 12,000 doses of the vaccine were administered daily, on an average of seven days, during the last week of October, compared to a maximum of over 90,000 in June.
In response to new vaccine requirements on Friday, Austrian Populist Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl called the measures “corona retaliation” and slammed the record of the conservative-led Austrian government during the pandemic.
“It is inexplicable why a new corona test should be worse than a vaccine given several months ago,” he said. “This clearly shows that the government has only one goal. . . to lead people to the needle, without ifs or buts.