Austrian Doctors Praise Decision to Enact National Lockdown Amid Record COVID Cases

Austria will begin a national lockdown as it reports record-high COVID-19 infection rates, the Associated Press reported.

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced the lockdown on Friday to start on November 22 and will last at least 10 days. Vaccinations against COVID will become mandatory beginning on February 1. The fourth nationwide lockdown comes as the country reports over 15,000 new COVID cases.

The country's doctors, who are being overwhelmed with patients, are praising the lockdown.

"The record infection figures that we have now experienced day after day will only be reflected in normal and intensive care units with a time lag. It really is high time for a full stop," said Walter Hasibeder to the Austrian news agency APA. He currently serves as the president of the Society of Anesthesiology, Resuscitation, and Intensive Care Medicine.

"Given the current infection developments, we believe there are no alternatives to even greater contact restriction than recently," he continued, "so any measures that help curb the momentum are welcome."

Austria has been reporting more than 10,000 new infections for the past week. Nearly 12,000 deaths attributed to the virus have also been recorded since the beginning of the pandemic. Despite having a population of 8.9 million, only 65.7 percent of Austrian citizens are fully vaccinated. Schallenberg said that the lack of action among citizens despite persuasion and campaigns for the vaccine prompted the February mandate. More details regarding this move will be finalized in the coming weeks.

"For a long time, the consensus in this country was that we didn't want mandatory vaccination," Schallenberg said. "For a long time, perhaps too long."

The lockdown's effects will be assessed after the 10 days are over. It could be extended to a maximum of 20 days if cases have not gone down.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Schallenberg Conference
Austria will impose a lockdown for all and make vaccinations mandatory, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced, making the country the first in the European Union to take such stringent measures as coronavirus cases spiral. Above, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg (left) and Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein speak at a press conference on November 19, 2021, in Pertisau, Tyrol, Austria, on expected further COVID-19 restrictions. Photo by Johan Groder/EXPA/AFP via Getty Images

Most stores will close, and cultural events will be canceled next week. People will be able to leave their homes only for certain specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

Wolfgang Mueckstein, the country's health minister, said that kindergartens and schools would remain open for those who needed to go there but all parents were asked to keep their children at home if possible.

"We do not want a fifth wave," Schallenberg said, according to ORF. "Nor do we want a sixth or seventh wave."

Earlier this month, Austria introduced rules that barred unvaccinated people from restaurants, hotels and large events.

And starting Monday, the government is imposing a national lockdown only for the unvaccinated.

Government officials had long promised that vaccinated people would no longer face lockdown restrictions: Over the summer, then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared the pandemic "over" for those who had received the vaccine. But as virus cases continued to skyrocket, the government said it had no choice but to extend it to everyone.

"This is very painful," Schallenberg said.

Mueckstein, the health minister, said many factors contributed to the current situation, including Austria's lower-than-expected vaccination rate and the seasonal impact of the virus. But he also apologized for state and federal leaders' initial reluctance to implement stronger measures.

"Unfortunately, even we as the federal government have fallen short of our standards in some areas," he said. "I want to apologize for that."

The situation is especially dire in the regions of Salzburg and Upper Austria, which have been particularly hard hit by the rising case numbers. In Salzburg, for example, the seven-day rate of new infections is nearly twice the national average.

Hospitals in both states have warned in recent days that their ICUs were reaching capacity, and hospitals in Salzburg had begun discussing potential triage procedures to take only the worst cases.

In addition, booster shots are now available to all vaccinated individuals starting four months after their second dose.

Austria Vaccinations
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the country will go into a national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of coronavirus cases. Schallenberg said the lockdown will start November 22, 2021, and initially last for 10 days. Above, people line up for vaccination in front of the St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, on Friday. AP Photo/Lisa Leutner