Thousands protest in Vienna against Covid lockdown

Thousands of protesters gathered in Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the quickly rising coronavirus infections in the country.

he far-right opposition Freedom Party was among those who have called for the protest and vowed to combat the new restrictions.

Demonstrations against Covid measures were also expected in other European countries, including Switzerland, Croatia and Italy.

On Friday, Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in central Rotterdam around a demonstration against Covid-19 restrictions.

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Thousands of protesters gathered in Vienna (Lisa Leutner/AP)

The Austrian lockdown will start early Monday and initially will last for 10 days, and will then be re-evaluated. At the most it will last 20 days.

Most shops close and cultural events will be cancelled. People will be able to leave their homes only for certain reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

The Austrian government also said that from February 1, vaccinations will be mandatory.

Thousands of protesters gathered at Heldenplatz.

About 1,300 police officers were on duty. They used loudspeakers to tell protesters masks were required, but most did not wear them.

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The Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown (Florian Schroetter/AP)

Chanting “Resistance!” and blowing whistles, protesters began to move slowly down the city’s inner ring road.

Many waved Austrian flags and carried signs mocking government leaders like chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.

Some wore medical scrubs, others had tinfoil hats. Most of the signs focused on the vaccine mandate. “My Body, My Choice,” read one. “We’re Standing Up for Our Kids” said another.

Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who announced earlier this week that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to isolate at home, made an appearance via video.

He denounced what he called “totalitarian” measures from a government “that believes it should think and decide for us”.

Vaccinations in Austria have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in western Europe and hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity. Average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks.

Not quite 66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, according to government figures.

Mr Schallenberg apologised to all vaccinated people on Friday, saying it was not fair they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.

“I’m sorry to take this drastic step,” he said on public broadcaster ORF.

In France, interior minister Gerald Darmanin on Saturday condemned incidents in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, one of France’s overseas territories, where violent demonstrations broke out this week over Covid restrictions.

Mr Darmanin said 29 people had been detained by police overnight.

Authorities announced on Friday a decision to send 200 additional police officers on the island and a nightly curfew from 6pm to 5am to be imposed until Tuesday.

Protesters have staged road blockades and set street equipment and cars on fire. They denounce the Covid health pass that is required to access restaurants and cafes, cultural venues, sporting arenas and long-distance travel.

They also protest against mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers.

The pass shows that people are fully vaccinated, have had a recent negative test or proof of recent Covid-19 recovery.

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