Austria extends Covid lockdown by 10 days – but amends rules to permit sale of Christmas trees

Country’s infection rate declining under current restrictions

Sam Hancock
Wednesday 01 December 2021 17:51

Related video: UK minister insists Christmas ‘on track’, despite concerns over omicron variant

Austria’s national lockdown has been extended until at least 11 December, amid early data signalling the current restrictions are working to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The only significant change to the measures – which will take effect from Thursday – are that essential shops will now have to close by 7pm, instead of 9pm, and that the sale of Christmas trees will be permitted.

It comes after a parliamentary committee voted on Wednesday to extend the lockdown, which started on 22 November as a result of rising deaths and hospitalisations – pushing some of the country’s hospitals to the brink.

Last month, Austria became the first European country – and one of the first in the world – to impose compulsory Covid vaccinations, beginning in February next year.

“We have not managed to get enough unvaccinated people to get vaccinated,” chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at the time. “For a long time, it was consensus in the country that a vaccine mandate is not necessary, but we have to face reality.”

Under the current restrictions, which make up the country’s fourth national lockdown, people can only leave their homes for specific reasons, including food shopping, a medical appointment and to exercise.

Schools and day care centres have remained open for essential workers, but parents have been asked to keep their children at home if possible.

Confirmation that lockdown would be extended was largely predicted by Austrian health and government officials in recent days, with some warning restrictions for unvaccinated residents will last beyond the new 11 December deadline.

The country has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe, with just under 67 per cent of the population being fully protected against Covid.

However, there are signs that the country’s seven-day infection rate has begun to decline since lockdown began a little more than a week ago.

The figure stood at 894.2 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, down from more than 1,100 on 22 November.

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