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Austria tightens vaccination rules as Covid cases double in five days

Austria is to make full vaccination mandatory for entry into restaurants, bars and entertainment spaces as the government struggles to contain soaring cases of Covid-19.

Full vaccination status will also expire nine months after a second dose, rather than 12, the government said, unless extended by a booster shot.

The rules — which will also recognise those who have recovered from proven coronavirus infections — will come into effect on Monday.

Until now, entry into hospitality venues had been possible using the EU’s green pass certificate — which can include evidence of a recent negative PCR test.

“None of us has a crystal ball . . . but if we want to prevent another lockdown, we must act now,” said chancellor Alexander Schallenberg at a press conference on Friday night, as he announced a tightening of the rules.

Consumer services that involve close personal contact, such as hairdressing and beauty treatments, as well as any organised gathering of more than 25 people, will require evidence of full vaccination or recovery.

The number of daily new infections in Austria has doubled in the space of just five days — on Monday there were 4523 new cases reported in the country, and on Friday, 9388 cases.

Rapidly rising case numbers are expected to imminently eclipse the previous highest recorded daily number of infections in Austria — 9,586 — seen in mid-November last year, to which the government responded with one of the strictest and longest-lasting lockdowns in Europe.

The number of deaths has also been rising in recent weeks. Although it has done so at a less alarming rate than during previous waves, Austria’s relatively-low vaccination rate means it is a cause for concern among public health authorities.

On Thursday, health authorities in Lower Austria said they were cancelling all non-urgent surgical procedures due to a bed shortage.

One in three Austrians has not yet had a first dose of the vaccine.

Scepticism is relatively high in the country. Earlier this year, a new political party of vaccine-sceptics, MFG, won 6.4 per cent of the vote, winning seats, in one of the country’s most important regional elections. Subsequent polls have indicated MFG’s result would be replicated nationwide.

The vaccination rate in Austria has dropped markedly since the summer. Just 12,000 doses of vaccine were administered daily, according to a seven-day average, in the last week of October, compared to a high of more than 90,000 in June.

Responding to the new vaccine requirements on Friday, the leader of Austria’s populist rightwing Freedom Party, Herbert Kickl, dubbed the measures “corona reprisals” and castigated the conservative-led Austrian government’s record during the pandemic.

“It is inexplicable why a fresh corona test should be worse than a vaccination given several months ago,” he said. “It clearly shows that the government has only one goal . . . to drive people towards the needle, with no ifs or buts.”

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