Austria Powers Down Public Life as Fourth Lockdown Begins

VIENNA (Reuters) -
Empty streets on the evening before the beginning of a nationwide lockdown due to the fast-rising COVID-19 infections in the country, in Vienna, Austria, Sunday. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

Austria powered down public life on Monday as its fourth national COVID-19 lockdown began, making it the first western European country to reimpose the drastic and unpopular measure this autumn in the face of surging coronavirus infections.

This lockdown is similar to previous ones but is the first introduced since vaccines became widely available. Most places people gather, like restaurants, cafes, theaters, non-essential shops and hairdressers cannot open their doors for 10 days initially and maybe as many as 20, the government says.

Seasonal markets, a big draw for tourists that had only just begun to open, must also shut, but in a last-minute change, ski lifts can remain open to the vaccinated. Hotels will, however, close to tourists not already staying there when the lockdown began.

“It is a situation where we have to react now,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told ORF news channel on Sunday night.

“A lockdown, a relatively tough method, a sledgehammer, is the only option to reduce the numbers [of infections] here.”

The conservative-led government imposed a lockdown on the unvaccinated last week but daily infections kept extending far above the previous peak reached a year ago and intensive care beds are running short.

On Friday, the government announced it was re-imposing a full lockdown as of Monday and would make it compulsory to get vaccinated as of Feb. 1, a step few countries have taken.

People can leave their homes for a limited number of reasons like going to work or buying essentials. Going for a walk is allowed with no limit on time or distance. Only one person from another household can be met at a time.

Workplaces and schools will stay open, but the government has asked parents to keep their children at home if possible.