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Austria faces major protests over lockdown and mandatory Covid vaccines.

Vienna is bracing itself for a massive demonstration on Saturday against a three-week national lockdown from Monday to break a runaway fourth wave of Covid-19.

Austria’s populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) said the looming lockdown – and plans to make vaccination mandatory by February – mean Austria “is now a dictatorship”.

From Monday all Austrians, regardless of vaccination status, are required to stay at home except for essential reasons such as food shopping, exercise or medical appointments.

“This decision does not come easily to us. None of us enjoys bringing in measures that put limits on freedom,” said chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Friday. He said that the measures, agreed with regional leaders, were necessary because “too many among us have acted without solidarity”.

Austrian authorities have unveiled fines of between €500 and €1,450 for those who violate the lockdown or refuse to participate in checks when requested.

The measures will be reviewed after 10 days.

Roughly two-thirds of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people.

Austria introduced a lockdown for all those who were unvaccinated on Monday but since then infections have continued to set new records.

With cold weather setting in across Europe as winter approaches, governments have been forced to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns. The Netherlands has reimposed a partial lockdown, with bars and restaurants closing at 8pm.

Germany’s coronavirus situation is so grave that a lockdown, including people who have been vaccinated, cannot be ruled out, the health minister said on Friday.

“We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out,” acting health minister Jens Spahn told a news conference.

Germany reported 52,970 new coronavirus cases and 201 deaths on Friday, bringing total deaths to 98,739.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that, in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of Covid-19 patients, large parts of public life would be restricted to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness. – Additional reporting Reuters

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