Austria locks down unvaccinated as European virus cases surge

In this file photo taken on Sept 14, 2021,
a student is vaccinated against the COVID-19 at a vocational school in Vienna on Sept 14, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

NEW YORK / VILNIUS / CAIRO / HAVANA / MOSCOW / LONDON – Austrian police have been ordered to stop and check individuals on the streets to enforce a lockdown on people who have refused a COVID-19 vaccine, part of a series of stricter curbs across Europe to counter a renewed surge in infections.

Starting on Monday, people who can’t show proof of vaccination and are caught going into cinemas, gyms or retail stores face fines starting at 500 euros ($573). Business owners could be tapped for 3,600 euros, the Interior Ministry announced on Sunday.

The country needs to raise its “shamefully low vaccination rate,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at a press conference in Vienna. “We are not taking this step lightly. But unfortunately it’s necessary.”

Austria’s unique approach to containing the virus comes as the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control warns that COVID-19 cases are spiking. Germany may follow with similar measures.

The three parties now negotiating a government coalition – the Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens – are planning to tighten restrictions on unvaccinated people, according to Oliver Krischer, the deputy head of the Greens caucus in German parliament.

“It’s absolutely necessary that there has to be contact restrictions for unvaccinated,” Krischer said on ZDF television on Monday. “It’s very, very important that the majority of the population – the people who have gotten vaccinated, the people who have done their part – are able to continue to take part in public life.”

Germany reported a record contagion rate on Monday, with 303 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days – almost three times higher than a year ago. Europe’s largest economy is also dealing with a tepid take-up of vaccines, despite widespread availability.

Current extraordinary measures to combat the spread of the virus will expire on Nov 25, and the coalition parties are planning to present new legislation later this week.

The Netherlands has also entered another partial lockdown, with bars, restaurants and non-essential shops required to shut down and limits placed on private gatherings.

The renewed restrictions threaten the region’s recovery. For Austria, the economic consequences of the new lockdown could approach 350 million euros a week, the nation’s trade association warned.

But the Alpine country’s normally combative provincial leadership has lined up behind the government’s new measures in the hopes of saving the key winter tourism season. Germany designated its Austrian neighbor a “high risk” zone over the weekend, making travel more restrictive.

ALSO READ: COVID-19 epicenter again: Europe faces fresh reckoning

A doctors works in front of a screen showing patients in their beds infected with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit of Lozenets Hospitalin Sofia on Nov 9, 2021.
(Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP)

Bulgaria

Three patients died after a fire broke out in a COVID-19 ward at a hospital in southern Bulgaria, the Associated Press reported. Hospitals are under strain in Bulgaria, where the virus is surging and which has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in Europe. 

In this file photo taken on Aug 24, 2021, a nurse prepares Roxana Montano, 3, to receive her dose of Soberana Plus, a Cuban vaccine against COVID-19 at Juan Manuel Marquez hospital in Havana, as part of the vaccine study in children and adolescents. (ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP)

Cuba

Cuba has seen a steady decline in the number of daily confirmed coronavirus cases, deaths and ICU admissions in the past week as the country is gradually returning to normal.

On Sunday, the Caribbean nation registered 348 new COVID-19 infections and three more related deaths, taking the national caseload to 958,738 and death toll to 8,242.

At present, there are 1,750 active cases of COVID-19 on the island, including 50 patients in intensive care units, according to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said that the COVID-19 pandemic on the island is under control, urging people to maintain discipline in face of the new normalcy.

The Cuban government has continued to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions across the country, including reopening cultural centers, cafeterias and restaurants.

Starting from Monday, international vaccinated travelers will be able to enter Cuba with vaccination passports or certificates issued overseas.

However, unvaccinated foreign visitors will have to present a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours prior to their arrival. Children under 12 will not be required to show COVID-19 PCR tests or vaccination passports when visiting Cuba.

ALSO READ: Dutch return to partial lockdown as virus cases soar

Egypt

Egypt's Health Ministry announced on Sunday that the country has set up new vaccination centers at Cairo Metro stations to allow more people to take COVID-19 vaccines and ease pressure on medical centers.

The vaccination centers stationed at Cairo Metro stations have started receiving commuters who are willing to register for or take the COVID-19 vaccines, said Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, minister of higher education and scientific research and acting minister of health.

The campaign is being carried out in cooperation with the Ministry of Transport, Abdel-Ghaffar said, adding up to 97 registration centers have been allocated at metro stations.

He added that vaccination centers will be installed in all metro stations in Cairo as well as train stations in several provinces, including Giza, Minya, Qena and Alexandria.

Vaccination centers will also be set up in a number of commercial markets and shopping malls, the minister said.

The sign of a COVID-19 testing station is seen in Duisburg, western Germany, on Nov 12, 2021, amid the ongoing pandemic. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Germany

Germany reported a record seven-day incidence rate of 303.0 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Robert Koch-Institut. The country has been catapulted into a fourth COVID-19 wave off the back of tepid vaccine take-up, with the incidence rate almost three times higher than a year ago.

The three parties now negotiating a government coalition – the Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens – aren’t ruling out tighter contact restrictions, according to the German press agency DPA. Proposals include requiring unvaccinated people to provide a negative test result in order to ride buses or trains. Current extraordinary measures to combat the spread of the virus will expire on Nov 25, and the coalition parties had said they didn’t plan to extend them.

Lithuania

The Lithuanian government approved the Health Ministry's proposal that medical masks or respirators are required indoors to cover both mouth and nose. This will come into effect on Nov 15, the Lithuanian National Television and Radio reported.

Lithuania has registered 1,433 new coronavirus infections and 19 deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, and 16 of 19 fatalities were either not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated, the country's statistics office said on Sunday morning.

The 14-day infection rate reached 1,233.2 per 100,000 people over the past 24 hours.

Starting from Oct 1, people in Lithuania must wear masks in all indoors public places. Until Nov 10, fabric masks were also allowed, but now they have to be replaced with medical masks or respirators.

Russia

Russia on Monday reported 1,211 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, close to an all-time high of 1,241 reported last week, as well as 38,420 new coronavirus cases.

Most of Russia's 80-plus regions lifted a week-long workplace shutdown at the beginning of last week that was designed to curb a surge in case numbers

Swiss

A third vaccination will have to be extended to the general population in the near future, Swiss President Guy Parmelin said in an interview with local paper NZZ am Sonntag. Switzerland currently recommends booster shots for people over 65 years old. 

UK

Britain's COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout is to be extended to people between 40 and 49 years old, officials said on Monday, in a bid to boost waning immunity in the population ahead of the colder winter months.

Currently all people other 50, those who are clinically vulnerable and frontline health workers are eligible for boosters, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said that the rollout would be extended further.

The advice comes as the UK Health Security Agency released data from a real-world study which found the booster gave over 90 percent protection against symptomatic COVID-19 for people aged 50 years and older.

"Booster vaccine doses in more vulnerable adults, and second vaccine doses in 16–17 year olds are important ways to increase our protection against COVID-19 infection and severe disease," said Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI's Chair for COVID-19 immunization.

However, the panel declined to recommend boosters for under 40s, saying it had found no robust evidence of a decline in protection against severe COVID-19 from the original vaccine rollout in that age group.

People wear facemasks upon entry into the United States at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry in San Ysidro, California on Nov 7, 2021. (FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP)

US

Democratic lawmakers are urging US President Joe Biden to require that all airline passengers either show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative coronavirus test before boarding a domestic flight, reported Business Insider on Sunday.

"This is a necessary and long overdue step toward ensuring all Americans feel safe and confident while traveling and reduce the chances of yet another devastating winter surge," said a request letter signed by more than 30 Democrats and sent to Biden on Nov 11.

The letter came as millions plan to travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. An estimation from the American Automobile Association said over 53 million people were planning to travel to see loved ones for Thanksgiving this year. Of that, about 4.2 million people were expected to travel by air.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised people to avoid taking domestic flights unless they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The White House announced last month that international travelers coming into the United States must show proof of full vaccination to enter.

The Democrats who signed on the letter are urging that Biden expand that mandate to people traveling within the United States so as to minimize the risk of spikes in COVID-19 cases after the holiday.

"We applaud your adoption of vaccine requirements for international air travelers coming to the United States. It is in the best interest of our nation's public health to adopt these vaccination requirements for US air travel," said the letter.