Massive protests in Vienna against Austria’s looming lockdown

Wide-scale backlash came after the Austrian government announced a new lockdown in response to increasing Covid-19 cases and low vaccination rates.

The Austrian government also said starting February 1, the Alpine nation will make vaccinations mandatory. (Lisa Leutner / AP)

Tens of thousands of people have protested in Vienna after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown beginning from Monday to contain the country’s skyrocketing coronavirus infections.

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Whistling, blowing horns and banging drums, crowds streamed on Saturday into Heroes’ Square in front of the Hofburg, the former imperial palace in central Vienna, one of several protest locations.

Chanting “resistance”, many demonstrators waved Austrian flags and carried signs with slogans such as “no to vaccination”, “enough is enough” or “down with the fascist dictatorship”.

Most of the signs focused on the newly announced vaccine mandate: “My Body, My Choice,” read one. “We’re Standing Up for Our Kids!” said another.

About 1,300 police officers were on duty. They used loudspeakers to tell protesters masks were required, but most didn’t wear them.

Twenty-day lockdown

The Austrian lockdown will start early on Monday. Initially it will last for 10 days and then it will be reevaluated.

At most, it will last for 20 days, officials said.

Most stores will close and cultural events will be cancelled.

People will be able to leave their homes only for certain specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

The Austrian government also said starting February 1, the Alpine nation will make vaccinations mandatory.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg apologised to all vaccinated people on Friday night, saying it wasn’t fair they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.

“I’m sorry to take this drastic step,” he said on public broadcaster ORF.

Backlash over restrictions

The far-right opposition Freedom Party was among those who have called for the protest and vowed to combat the new restrictions.

Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who announced earlier this week that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to stay in isolation at home, made an appearance via video.

He denounced what he called “totalitarian” measures from a government “that believes it should think and decide for us”.

Vaccinations in Austria have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe and hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity.

Average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks.

About 66 percent of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated.

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