Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told public broadcaster ORF that he empathized with the millions of his countrymen and women who had been vaccinated against Covid-19, as the country began a new lockdown.
“I’m sorry to take this drastic step,” Schallenberg said, according to the Associated Press. The lockdown, which starts on Monday, will last for at least 10 days and may be extended for a further 10 days if Covid-19 indicators don’t improve.
The fresh lockdown measures apply to the entire Austrian population; the government had already imposed a partial lockdown on the unvaccinated in an effort to reduce hospitalization rates as Covid-19 cases soar.
When the 10-day nationwide lockdown ends, unvaccinated citizens will still be barred from certain public places.
Last week, Schallenberg announced that vaccinations would become mandatory from February 1. “We haven’t been able to convince enough people to vaccinate. For too long, I and others have assumed that you can convince people to get vaccinated,” the chancellor stated.
Some 66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people have been fully inoculated against Covid-19, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.
On Friday, neighboring Germany entered a “nationwide state of emergency” amid soaring case numbers. “Probably by the end of this winter, as is sometimes cynically said, pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, cured or dead,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday, reiterating the severity of the situation.