The head of Austria's government warned Thursday that unvaccinated people in the country could be put into lockdown as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
The central European country has in recent weeks implemented new coronavirus restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus and encourage more people to get vaccinated. On Monday, a new rule took effect that requires all persons, including travelers, to show valid proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus in order to enter indoor places including restaurants, hotels, hairdressing salons, and large public events.
The new rules stipulate that COVID-19 tests, both PCR and antigen, are no longer valid for entry into certain indoor locations. All persons, including tourists, must have a valid vaccine passport or proof of recovery from COVID-19 to frequent indoor establishments.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced last month that unvaccinated persons could face additional restrictions if coronavirus case numbers continue to rise. According to the Associated Press, cases have risen. The government reported 710.8 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last week on Wednesday, a higher case positivity rate than in neighboring Germany, where coronavirus cases are soaring.
In September, the government put forward a plan to place unvaccinated people in lockdown once 30% of intensive care beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, Reuters reports. The current level is 20%, and with cases and hospitalizations rising, the country is on track to trigger the lockdown measures.
On Thursday, while visiting Bregenz in the western part of the country, Schallenberg said that a lockdown for the unvaccinated is "probably unavoidable" and that unvaccinated people will face an "uncomfortable" winter and Christmas.
"According to the incremental plan we actually have just days until we have to introduce the lockdown for unvaccinated people," Schallenberg said. He explained that a lockdown for the unvaccinated would mean anyone without valid proof of vaccination would be forced to stay home except to go to work, shop for essential goods, or take a walk to stretch their legs.
He added that the country's vaccination rate is "shamefully low."
In Austria, 65% of the population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the lowest vaccination rate of any Western European country, with the exception of Liechtenstein, according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control data.
"I don't see why two-thirds should lose their freedom because one-third is dithering," Schallenberg said. "For me, it is clear that there should be no lockdown for the vaccinated out of solidarity for the unvaccinated."
The chancellor said authorities would consider a vaccine mandate for some professional groups.
"We can break this wave together," Schallenberg said.