Austria prepares to lock down unvaccinated as cases spike

A student is vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19) at a vocational school in Vienna on September 14, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

BERLIN / ADDIS ABABA / RABAT / SOFIA – Austria is preparing to implement lockdown measures for unvaccinated people as coronavirus cases spike to record levels. 

The plan is expected to be approved Sunday and come into effect a day later, the Austria Press Association reported, citing a draft document.  

Under the new measures, people without proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 would only be allowed to leave home for essential activities, including going to work, grocery shopping, medical treatment and exercise

Under the new measures, people without proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 would only be allowed to leave home for essential activities, including going to work, grocery shopping, medical treatment and exercise.  

Salzburg and Upper Austria, states with high COVID-19 rates and low vaccination levels, are expected to introduce the measures themselves on Monday. 

State governors will likely meet Sunday to discuss ways to turn around Austria’s sharply rising infections, which are increasingly straining medical facilities. 

Austria’s 7-day average of COVID-19 cases has more than doubled this month to more than 10,000, and its recent rate of infection is among the highest in the world. A record 13,152 cases were reported on Saturday. 

Only about 65 percent of Austrians are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. Hospitalizations have climbed, and deaths are averaging the highest levels since March, before vaccines were widely available.  

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Thursday rejected lockdown measures for vaccinated people. 

“I don’t see that two thirds should lose their freedom because one third is hesitating,” Schallenberg said at a press conference. He called Austria’s vaccine take-up “shamefully low.” 

The lockdowns would be enforced by spot checks and the threat of hefty fines. 

“We don’t live in a police state and are not able — and nor do we want — to control every street corner,” Schallenberg said.

People without proof of vaccination or recovery are currently excluded from many activities in Austria, including concerts, restaurants and bars.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 8,553,696 as of Friday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union (AU), said the death toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 220,546.

Some 7,975,484 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease so far, according to the agency.

ALSO READ: WHO: COVID-19 deaths surged 43% week-on-week in Africa

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Libya are among the countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the agency.

In terms of the caseloads, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

A man waits at the reception of testing station in Duisburg, western Germany, on Nov 12, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
(INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Germany

Three German state health ministers urged parties negotiating to form a new government to prolong states' power to implement stricter pandemic measures such as lockdowns or school closures as the country's seven-day COVID incidence rate hit record highs.

The number of people per 100,000 infected last week rose to 277.4, data from the Robert Koch Institute showed on Saturday, and has risen to over 500 in some regions of the country.

The number of people per 100,000 infected last week rose to 277.4, data from the Robert Koch Institute showed on Saturday, and has risen to over 500 in some regions of the country

The head of Germany's largest doctors association Marburger Bund told German media group Funke Mediengruppe that overburdened intensive care units may need to move patients between regions to find beds in coming weeks.

The federal government and leaders of Germany's 16 states are due to discuss new pandemic measures next week, but the three parties negotiating to form a new government have agreed to let a state of emergency, in place since the start of the pandemic, expire on Nov 25 as planned.

ALSO READ: Germany worried as millions of elderly still lack virus shots

But state health ministers of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hessen and Brandenburg argued that states needed to keep the option open of implementing policies which required a state of emergency to enforce – such as curfews, lockdowns or school closures – if the situation worsened.

"In the face of the burden on hospitals, which in some regions are close to absolute overload, the epidemic status should be prolonged on a national level," the three health ministers said in a joint statement on Saturday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged unvaccinated people to reconsider their decision in a video message on Saturday morning. She also called for stronger enforcement of rules requiring a negative test, vaccination or proof of recovery before entering closed spaces, and faster rollout of booster vaccines.

"Difficult weeks lie ahead of us, and you can see that I am very worried," Merkel said, speaking in her weekly video podcast. "I urgently ask everyone who has not yet been vaccinated: please reconsider."

The German army is preparing to mobilize 12,000 soldiers by Christmas to assist overrun healthcare services, Spiegel newspaper reported, and will provide booster vaccinations and tests in care homes and hospitals.

So far, 630 soldiers have been deployed, Spiegel reported. The army was not immediately available for comment.

Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic again, prompting some governments to consider re-imposing unpopular lockdowns.  

Morocco

Morocco announced on Saturday to strengthen the control measures for access to its territory, as part of efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

A mandatory health pass and negative PCR test will be required for international travelers, as well as a double-check by thermal cameras, and antigen tests will be conducted upon arrival in Morocco, said an official statement published by the Moroccan official news agency MAP.

The statement added that any passenger who tested positive on arrival in Morocco must return immediately to the country of origin at the expense of the airline or shipping company.

This decision aimed to preserve Morocco's achievements in the fight against COVID-19, and took into account the increase in cases of infection in Morocco's European neighbors, it said.

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 948,157 on Saturday as 132 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll stood at 14,740 with three new fatalities, and the total of recoveries hit 929,909 after 134 new ones were added.

 A total of 24,359,996 people have received the first shot of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, and 22,388,630 people have received the second dose. Meanwhile, 1,570,471 people have taken the third dose.

The North African country launched a nationwide vaccination campaign on Jan 28 after the arrival of the first shipment of China's Sinopharm vaccines. 

Slovenia

Slovenian hospitals are near a breaking point as numbers of patients in ICUs climbed to 225 on Saturday, the highest since the beginning of the epidemic in March 2020. With the vaccination campaign stalling at around 54 percent of citizens fully immunized, daily deaths hit 20 for the second time in a week, the most since February. Total deaths are 4,920.

UK

The UK plans to offer booster shots early, at five months after full vaccination from the current six, the Guardian reported, citing anonymous sources. The change is aimed at reducing possible pressure as the winter approaches, the newspaper reported. 

Those eligible for the earlier shots are frontline health workers, people with underlying health conditions and those older than 50. 

A record 2 million booster shots were given in the last week for a total of more than 12 million, the government announced on Saturday.