Austria will be the first government in Western Europe to impose a complete COVID-19 shutdown, the country said on Friday, as Germany warned it would follow suit, sending chills through financial markets concerned about the economic consequences.
According to Health Minister Jens Spahn, a fourth wave of illnesses has thrown Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a state of emergency, warning that vaccines alone will not be enough to reduce case numbers. Austria said that, in addition to the lockdown, the whole population will be vaccinated beginning February 1. Both judgments outraged many in a country where skepticism of government requirements impacting individual liberty is widespread, fueled by the far-right Freedom Party, which is the third largest in parliament.
On Facebook, party head Herbert Kickl shared a photo with the caption, “As of today, Austria is a dictatorship.”
The party is planned a demonstration for Saturday, but Kickl will be unable to attend due to a positive COVID-19 test. In Austria, around two-thirds of individuals eligible have had complete COVID-19 vaccination, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. It has one of Europe’s highest infection rates, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 persons.
“We have not been able to persuade enough people to be vaccinated,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at a press conference, adding that the lockdown would begin on Monday and the vaccination obligation would begin on February 1. “It saddens that such measures are still necessary.”
“We are now in a situation – even if this causes a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out,” Spahn said when asked if Germany could rule out an Austrian-style full lockdown.
At a press conference, he declared, “We are in a national emergency.”
As the threat of a new COVID-related shutdown in Germany and other parts of Europe put a new shadow over the global economy, European markets retreated from record highs, while government bond rates, oil prices, and the currency all fell.