BERLIN (AP) — Austria's fourth national lockdown of the pandemic will end on Sunday but lockdown restrictions will remain for unvaccinated people, the country's new chancellor said Wednesday.
Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the end of the lockdown will be a “opening with a seatbelt,” meaning some measures — such as an obligation to wear masks on public transportation and inside stores and public spaces — will stay in place also for people who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19. There will also be an 11 p.m. curfew for restaurants and limits on the number of people attending cultural events.
Stricter measures can be implemented independently by regions that are especially affected by the pandemic, Nehammer said.
Nehammer stressed that unvaccinated people could end their lockdowns immediately by getting the jab, but also acknowledged that “it still takes a lot of convincing to get those to where they haven’t even been vaccinated yet.”
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated continues. I also understand that the people who are affected by it feel aggrieved," Nehammer told reporters in Vienna. “At the same time, there is the offer of science, that by getting vaccinated these troubles can be quickly put aside and that then common freedom can actually be lived together.”
Austria has a relatively low vaccination rate for Western Europe, with just 67.7% of the population fully vaccinated. Tens of thousands have protested across the Alpine nation in recent weeks against the lockdown and the upcoming vaccine mandate.
The government announced last month that it would implement a vaccine mandate early next year and said Wednesday that details about the compulsory vaccinations will be presented later this week.
Under the lockdown, which started on Nov. 22, people were allowed to leave their homes only for specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising. Day care centers and schools remained open for those who need them, but parents were asked to keep children at home if possible.
The country’s seven-day infection rate declined by about half during the lockdown. It stood at 535.6 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, down from more than 1,100 on the day the lockdown started.
Nehammer was sworn in Monday as Austria’s third chancellor in two months, capping a round of upheaval triggered by the decision last week of Sebastian Kurz, the country’s dominant political figure of recent years, to bow out of politics.
Nehammer, 49, has been Austria’s interior minister since early 2020. He also is taking over as leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, which Kurz led to election victories in 2017 and 2019.
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