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Austria lifts COVID lockdown restrictions — but for vaccinated people only

Closed restaurant in Vienna
Restaurants and other venues have been closed in Vienna because of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
(Lisa Leutner / Associated Press)

Three weeks after re-imposing strict rules to combat a rising wave of coronavirus infections, Austria is ending lockdown restrictions — but only for vaccinated people.

The rules, which vary by region, largely allow for the reopening of shops Monday. Restaurants, hotels, theaters, museums and other cultural and entertainment venues were allowed to start reopening Sunday, although some regions said they would wait till later in the month.

In all cases, there will be an 11 p.m. curfew for restaurants, and masks will still be required on public transportation and inside stores and public spaces.

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Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer last week called the move an “opening with a seat belt,” giving each of Austria’s nine regions the ability to loosen or tighten restrictions based on the local situation.

Unvaccinated people will still be subject to the restrictions and are expected to remain at home for all but a handful of specific activities, such as buying groceries, going to the doctor and exercising.

Since the start of the lockdown, new case numbers have plummeted in the small Alpine country. On Friday, Austria reported 367.5 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 1,102.4 on the first day of the lockdown in November.

With immunity waning and the Omicron variant looming, many scientists are saying the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ should include a booster shot.

However, hospitalizations from the coronavirus haven’t dropped as sharply as new case numbers. There are currently 567 coronavirus patients in intensive care units across the country, down only slightly from 572 on the first day of the lockdown last month.

Austrian officials have stressed that high rates of vaccination are necessary to control the virus — 67.7% of the population is fully vaccinated, a relatively low rate for Western Europe. The government has introduced measures to put increasing pressure on unvaccinated people to get inoculated.

Among those measures are a nationwide vaccine mandate, which will go into effect in February for all residents 14 and older. Those who don’t comply will face fines of up to about $4,000.

Tens of thousands of people have protested across the country in recent weeks, both against the lockdown restrictions and the coming vaccine mandate. Police said a Saturday demonstration in the capital, Vienna, drew 44,000 people.


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