However, Sunday’s lockdown halt for vaccinated residents comes with some strings attached: A national 11pm curfew is still in place for restaurants, and mask-wearing remains compulsory in indoor public spaces. Also, each of the country’s nine states can tighten restrictions based on local conditions; in fact, business reopenings won’t begin in some areas until later this month.
Nehammer announced the easing of Covid-19 rules on Wednesday, calling the move an “opening with a seatbelt,” referring to the remaining restrictions and the ability of states to clamp down as needed. As for keeping unvaccinated citizens locked down, he said, “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 been wracked by protests over home confinements and vaccine orders, including a demonstration in Vienna on Saturday that police estimated was attended by 44,000 people.
Its citizens face a nationwide vaccine mandate that’s scheduled to take effect in February 2022, making it the first Western democracy to impose such a requirement. Those who don’t comply – only about 68% of Austrians are fully vaccinated – can be fined as much as €3,600.
The country imposed a lockdown last month on unvaccinated Austrians in a move that was cheered by many who had elected to obtain a jab. However, with Covid-19 infections still rising, the order was expanded a few days later to include everyone. Governors in states such as Upper Austria and Salzburg had pressed for the wider restrictions, citing concerns that their hospitals could be overwhelmed by surging coronavirus infections.
Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations in Austria continued to rise during the lockdown, even as new cases declined. The country’s hospitals currently have 567 Covid-19 patients in their intensive-care units, up from 514 on November 19 – the day the widened lockdown was announced.