Austria begins another national lockdown as COVD tightens its grip and protests spread across Europe

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Austria is beginning another COVID-19 lockdown, as the government seeks to limit the spread of the virus.

The lockdown is the first since vaccines became widely available, but it comes as just 65% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Most gathering places – such as restaurants, cafes, bars, theatres, non-essential shops, and hairdressers – will be closed for 10 days, but this could be extended to 20 days, the government has said.

Hotels will close to tourists who were not already staying in them when the lockdown began.

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Thousands protest new lockdown in Austria

Police officers check the vaccination status of shoppers against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the entrance of a store in Vienna, Austria
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Austria will make vaccination mandatory from February next year

The country’s famous Christmas markets will also close, although ski lifts will remain open to those who have been vaccinated.

People can leave their homes for a limited number of reasons, such as going to work or buying essentials.

They can also go for a walk but can only meet one person from another household at a time.

More on Austria

Workplaces and schools will remain open, although the government has said parents should keep children at home if possible.

Health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told ORF TV: “It is a situation where we have to react now.

“A lockdown – a relatively tough method, a sledgehammer – is the only option to reduce the numbers (of infections) here.”

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Austria rules on COVID-19 jab

It comes a week after a lockdown was imposed on those who are not vaccinated but Austria’s government has said it will make vaccination compulsory from the beginning of February.

The number of new cases daily in Austria has hovered between 14,000 and 15,000 in recent days.

This is up sharply from just a few hundred a day during the summer, and under 3,000 a day for much of October.

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Europe accounts for more than half of the average seven-day cases worldwide and around half of latest deaths – the highest levels since April last year when COVID-19 was at its initial peak in Italy.

But governments face a delicate balancing act between trying to contain the disease and maintaining a fragile economic recovery.

Thousands of protesters have rallied in cities across Europe over the weekend, as leaders look to tighten COVID-19 restrictions to tackle the latest wave of infections.

In the Netherlands, riots broke out for the third night in a row on Sunday evening in several towns and cities, including Leeuwarden and Groningen in the north, the eastern town of Enschede and Tilburg in the south.

Two football matches in the country’s professional league had to be paused on Saturday after fans broke into stadiums, while police in the Hague said five officers were injured as they tried to stop rioting youths who set at least two fires and threw fireworks.

The most violent scenes came on Friday night in Rotterdam where police clashed with mobs of angry youths who set fires and threw rocks, resulting in 51 arrests.

In Belgium, tens of thousands of people marched through Brussels on Sunday to protest reinforced COVID-19 restrictions imposed to counter the latest spike in coronavirus cases.

Many among the police estimate of 35,000 at the rally had already left for home when the demonstration descended into violence as several hundred people started smashing cars and setting garbage bins ablaze whole police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Three police officials and one demonstrator were injured in the clashes. In addition, 42 protesters were detained and two were arrested and charged in the violence that followed the march, police said.

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Water cannon used on COVID protesters in Brussels

In Austria tens of thousands of protesters – many from far-right groups – marched through Vienna over the weekend with fire-lit torches and banners saying: “My body, my choice”. Others burned face masks.

Protesters threw fireworks and bottles while police used pepper spray.

Several people were arrested but police did not specify how many.

A sign hangs on a child as people protest against a planned coronavirus disease (COVID-19) law of the Swiss government, in Zurich, Switzerland November 20, 2021
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Swiss people protested in Zurich against a planned COVID-19 law
Demonstrators carry flags as they gather to protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures, in Zagreb, Croatia November 20, 2021
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Demonstrators waved flags at a protest in Zagreb

In Croatia, thousands of people protested in the capital Zagreb, holding Croatian flags, nationalist and religious symbols, and anti-vaccination banners.

In Switzerland, thousands of people protested in Zurich against the idea of a Swiss COVID certificate, which could become compulsory for entry to some public places, but unlike previous protests in the capital city of Bern, the weekend’s demonstrations were peaceful.

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