Thousands of protesters gathered in Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the quickly rising coronavirus infections in the country.
The far-right opposition Freedom Party was among those who have called for the protest and vowed to combat the new restrictions.
The Austrian lockdown will start early Monday and initially will last for 10 days, and will then be reevaluated. At the most it will last 20 days. Most stores will close, and cultural events will be canceled. People will be able to leave their homes only for certain specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.
The Austrian government also said that starting February 1, the country will make vaccinations mandatory.
As the march kicked off on Vienna’s Heldenplatz, thousands of protesters gathered on the massive square. About 1,300 police officers were on duty. They used loudspeakers to tell protesters masks were required, but most didn’t wear them.
Chanting “resistance!” and blowing whistles, protesters began to move slowly down the city’s inner ring road. Many waved Austrian flags and carried signs mocking government leaders like Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.
Vaccinations in Austria have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe and hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity. Average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks.
Not quite 66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, according to government figures.
Austrian Chancellor Schallenberg apologized to all vaccinated people on Friday night saying it wasn’t fair they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.
“I’m sorry to take this drastic step,” he said on public broadcaster ORF.