CORONAVIRUS EUROPE – Austria returns to national lockdown to stem Covid surge

Spain, UK

(Update 1: Adds Merkel’s remarks and the situation in Greece and the Netherlands)

Vienna, Nov 22 (EFE).- Austria on Monday began a 20-day nationwide lockdown as the Alpine nation struggles to contain rising Covid-19 infections.

It is the first European Union member state to impose a national lockdown during the fourth wave and the first country to mandate compulsory Covid vaccines, as of February next year, amid soaring infection rates.

«We need a decisive action,» health minister Wolfgang Mückstein said of the new restrictions.

He added that personnel working in ICUs were overwhelmed and could no longer withstand the situation.

In an interview on state television which aired Sunday, Mückstein said the aim was to reduce contacts between citizens by at least 30%.

Among the new measures, which will be in place until at least December 12, people have been ordered to only leave home to purchase basic goods, go to work or school, or for a spot of outdoor exercise.

Professional sports events, such as football matches, will take place behind closed doors.

Despite the lockdown being fairly relaxed compared to others that have been rolled out across the bloc, Austrians flooded the streets of Vienna over the weekend to protest the new rules.

Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced the lockdown mandate on Friday, days after the coalition government, made up of conservatives and environmentalists, had issued restrictions for unvaccinated people.

Some regions are witnessing overcrowded ICUs, which is affecting treatment of non-Covid-19 related illnesses.

Across the border, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday warned of the need for more drastic measures as the active infection rate shot to a record of 637,200, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) of virology.

“We are facing a highly dramatic situation,” Merkel said during a Christian Democratic Union meeting, according public TV channel ZDF.

The German health minister Jens Spahn on Monday had a message for those refusing to get vaccinated.

“Probably, by the end of this winter, practically everyone in Germany, as has already been cynically said, will be vaccinated, recovered or dead.”

In the Netherlands, some 30 people were arrested overnight after protests against coronavirus measures descended into riots.

Greece from Monday has banned unvaccinated adults from accessing indoor diners, cinemas, theaters, museums, gyms and public buildings.

The United Kingdom’s prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged the population to get the booster to help boost the economic growth.

Meanwhile, in Russia, another country that has been grappling with a surge of Covid-19 infections, health authorities on Monday reported a slight decrease in daily cases, which stood at 35,681, some 1,289 fewer than the previous day.

However, the number of Covid-related deaths remained close to its record peak with 1,241 in the previous 24 hours. EFE

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