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Angry and divided, Austrians argue over a lockdown and vaccine mandates

The opposition to the lockdown and vaccine mandates is being fueled in part by the far-right Freedom Party, which has used its platform in the Austrian Parliament to spread doubt about the effectiveness of the vaccines and to promote ivermectin.

By: New York Times | Vienna |
November 22, 2021 1:14:14 pm
Anti-lockdown protesters hold torches and banners in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (AP)

Written by Melissa Eddy

Daniel Zeman wasn’t able to sell any of his handmade apple-ginger liqueur last year during the Christmas season because Austria was in lockdown. He finally opened his stand four days ago, only to have the government announce that Sunday would be the last day. Austria was locking down.

The decision was a blow that angered some and frustrated nearly everyone.

Europe is experiencing a menacing fourth wave of the coronavirus, with soaring rates of infection. While Austria may be the first European country to respond with a nationwide lockdown, it may not be the last. That prospect, along with increasingly stringent vaccine mandates, is setting off a backlash here and elsewhere, with mass demonstrations in Vienna, Brussels and the Dutch city of Rotterdam over the weekend, sometimes punctuated with violent outbreaks.

Austria, where 66 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, reported more than 14,000 new cases of the virus within 24 hours Sunday. Over the past week the Netherlands has been averaging more than 20,000, while Germany has seen roughly double that number.

Austrian officials’ decision to impose a lockdown that will last at least 10 days and as many as 20 came after months of struggling attempts to halt the contagion through widespread testing and partial restrictions. Starting Monday, public life in the country is to come to a halt, with people allowed to leave their homes only to go to work or to procure groceries or medicines.

The new Covid wave is being driven by widespread resistance to vaccines and the growing prevalence of vaccine and mask mandates. Austrian officials have said they will enforce a nationwide vaccine mandate in February, the first European nation to do so.

People walk by the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. (AP)

The opposition to the lockdown and vaccine mandates is being fueled in part by the far-right Freedom Party, which has used its platform in the Austrian Parliament to spread doubt about the effectiveness of the vaccines and to promote ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms that has repeatedly failed against the coronavirus in clinical trials.

But the fury is not limited to far-right activists, as the throngs that filled Vienna’s streets Saturday attested. Police estimated the crowd at 40,000, with many families and others far outnumbering the right-wing extremists.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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