Major protest in Vienna against lockdown and mandatory coronavirus vaccination

A day before the start of Austria’s latest coronavirus lockdown — and a day after the government decided to resort to mandatory vaccination — thousands of people took to the streets of Vienna on Saturday to protest against the measures.

The demonstrations began quietly at noon but by early afternoon, police had made several arrests after fireworks were set off and beer cans were thrown at officers, Austrian press agency APA reported. Violations of coronavirus rules were also penalized.

Following Friday’s announcement by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg that coronavirus vaccination would become mandatory as of February, the authorities had expected a large protest and deployed some 1,300 police officers to Vienna city center. They also advised people to stay home. However, Austria is about to go into lockdown and local media reported that the city center was busy early in the morning as people hit the shops before many stores close for almost three weeks.

According to APA, at one rally in the museum quarter of the capital, the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), Herbert Kickl, addressed the crowd by video link. Kickl, a vaccine skeptic, could not attend in person because he was in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.

The newspaper Krone reported that extreme-right figures such as neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier Gottfried Küssel and Martin Sellner, head of the Identitarian Movement Austria, were in the crowd.

Among the banners being held up by protesters were those reading “Control the borders, not your people,” as well as references to the Great Reset, a conspiracy theory, and “Compulsory vaccination? No thanks.”

Vaccination uptake has been rather low in Austria, with only 64 percent of the population fully vaccinated, putting the country below the EU average and forcing the government to resort to mandatory vaccination. The state of Salzburg has set up a committee to decide who should be saved in its overwhelmed hospitals.

The scenes in Vienna came a day after President Alexander Van der Bellen called on citizens to stand together during yet another lockdown to break the fourth wave of the pandemic.

“Let’s not be divided — let’s build a strong community of solidarity,” he said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial. 

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