Austria Sees Third Weekend Of COVID-19 Protests

Police clashes with protesters during a demonstration against measures taken to curb the Covid-19 corona pandemic in Vienna, on December 4, 2021. FLORIAN WIESER / APA / AFP
Police clashes with protesters during a demonstration against measures taken to curb the Covid-19 corona pandemic in Vienna, on December 4, 2021. FLORIAN WIESER / APA / AFP

 

Tens of thousands of Austrians turned out Saturday for the third straight weekend of protests against the government’s coronavirus measures, police said.

After several different demonstrations took place in the capital Vienna, police said their estimate of overall turnout was “over 40,000”.

Police said that some demonstrators had thrown “pyrotechnic objects” at officers, who used pepper spray in response.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Reviews International Travel Protocol Amid Omicron Variant Scare

Several arrests were made for civil disorder offences.

Police added that around 1,500 people had taken part in a counter-demonstration.

Austria is in a partial lockdown which started on November 22 and is scheduled to end on December 11.

It was the first country in the EU to say it would make vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory, a measure expected to come into effect from February.

The government has justified the measures by pointing to a fourth wave of the virus and the country’s vaccination rate — at 67 percent one of the lowest in Western Europe. The country’s intensive care units are coming under increasing pressure.

Since the lockdown came into effect, infection numbers in the country of 8.9 million have fallen from highs of 13,000 a day to under 10,000.

However, the restrictions have prompted a backlash from many Austrians.

Local media reported protestors had travelled to the Vienna protests from across the country Saturday, and families with children were among those taking part.

The opposition to lockdowns and compulsory vaccination has been encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), whose leader Herbert Kickl has promoted unproven treatments against the virus and accused the conservative-green coalition government of acting like a “dictatorship”.

 

AFP

Court Slams $3,060 Fine On Surgeon For Amputating Wrong Leg

A file photo used to illustrate the story.

 

An Austrian court has fined a surgeon for amputating the wrong leg of an elderly patient, a spokesperson for the tribunal in the northern city of Linz said Wednesday.

While the 43-year-old defendant said her actions were due to “human error”, the judge found her guilty of gross negligence and fined her 2,700 euros ($3,060), with half the amount suspended, the spokesperson said.

The surgeon had marked the wrong leg of the 82-year-old patient for amputation ahead of the operation in May in the central town of Freistadt, only noticing the mistake two days after carrying out the surgery.

READ ALSO: US School Shooting: Fourth Student Dies As Suspect Surrenders To Police

The court awarded 5,000 euros in damages plus interest to the widow of the patient, who died before the case came to court.

The surgeon said there had been a flaw in the chain of control in the operating theatre. She has since moved to another clinic and can appeal the judgement.

The management of the institution involved said in a statement that “the causes and circumstances of this medical error have been analysed in detail”, internal procedures discussed with the team, and training provided.

AFP

Austrian Chancellor Steps Down Amid Corruption Scandal

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz arrives to give a press statement on the government crisis at the Federal Chancellery in Vienna, Austria, on October 9, 2021. GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz arrives to give a press statement on the government crisis at the Federal Chancellery in Vienna, Austria, on October 9, 2021. GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP

 

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz on Saturday announced he was stepping down as chancellor following pressure on him to resign after he was implicated in a corruption scandal.

In a televised media statement, Kurz said he wanted to “make space to prevent chaos”.

“We need stability,” the 35-year-old conservative said, adding it would be “irresponsible” to allow Austria to “slide into months of chaos or gridlock” while the EU member fights the pandemic.

READ ALSO: US To Sell 12 Attack Helicopters To Australia

Kurz said he would nominate Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg as new chancellor, while he would stay on as the leader of his People’s Party (OeVP) and a lawmaker in parliament.

Vice Chancellor and Greens leader Werner Kogler on Friday had asked the OeVP to name another chancellor, saying Kurz was “no longer fit for office”.

On Wednesday prosecutors raided several locations linked to the OeVP and announced that Kurz and nine other individuals were under investigation over claims that government money was used in a corrupt deal to ensure positive media coverage.

‘Human with emotions and mistakes’

Kurz has denied any wrongdoing, reiterating on Saturday that allegations against him were “false.”

“I will be able to clarify it; I’m sure about that,” he said calmly.

He said some of the text messages he wrote that got him into hot water were composed in “the heat of the moment”.

“I’m just human with emotions and mistakes,” he said.

By stepping down, Kurz avoids having to face a parliamentary no-confidence motion, which he was expected to lose after his junior coalition partner, the Greens, turned against him.

In 2019, his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) already collapsed after his ally became engulfed in a corruption scandal, but fresh elections once again saw Kurz’s OeVP come out on top.

In the latest scandal, according to prosecutors, the core allegation is that between 2016 and 2018, finance ministry resources were used to finance “partially manipulated opinion polls that served an exclusively party political interest”.

This correlates to the time period in which Kurz, already a government minister, took over the leadership of the OeVP and later that of the Alpine EU member at the helm of a coalition with the FPOe.

Prosecutors allege that payments were made to an unnamed media company — widely understood to be the Oesterreich tabloid — in return for publishing these surveys.

The OeVP-Green coalition — a first at a national level — entered office in January 2020 and has already been put under strain several times by the fallout from other corruption scandals and differences over questions such as refugee policy.

Thousands demonstrated in front of the OeVP headquarters in central Vienna late on Thursday, calling for Kurz’s resignation while waving signs that read “Against corruption” and “Shame on you”.

 

AFP

Italy Beat Austria After Extra-Time To Reach Euro 2020 Quarter-Finals

Italy's midfielder Federico Chiesa (R) shoots to score the team's first goal during extra time in the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between Italy and Austria at Wembley Stadium in London on June 26, 2021. Laurence Griffiths / POOL / AFP
Italy’s midfielder Federico Chiesa (R) shoots to score the team’s first goal during extra time in the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between Italy and Austria at Wembley Stadium in London on June 26, 2021. Laurence Griffiths / POOL / AFP

 

Italy overcame stubborn Austria 2-1 in extra-time at Wembley on Saturday to reach the Euro 2020 quarter-finals as Denmark breezed through by hammering Wales 4-0.

Roberto Mancini’s side, who earned rave reviews after their cruise through the group phase, were made to work hard for their win and had super subs Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina to thank.

The victory means Italy have now set a new record of 31 matches unbeaten, surpassing the mark set under two-time World Cup-winning coach Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.

Italy’s fans gave a rousing rendition of their national anthem and were the more enterprising team in the first half but Austria came back strongly after the break and cursed a VAR decision to rule out a goal for Marko Arnautovic 20 minutes into the second half.

Despite multiple attempts on goal from both sides, they were locked at 0-0 after 90 minutes in London.

But Chiesa made the crucial breakthrough five minutes into extra-time and another goal from Pessina gave Italy a two-goal cushion.

There was still time for late drama when Austria’s Sasa Kalajdzic pulled a goal back but Italy progress and will play the winners of Sunday’s tie between Belgium and holders Portugal.

Mancini, who has rebuilt the Azzurri after their humiliating failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, said his side “deserved” the result.

“In the first half we could have scored a couple of goals and then after the break we dropped off physically,” he told Italy’s public broadcaster RAI.

“We won thanks to the players who came on with the right mindset and resolved the situation. I knew it would be hard, maybe even more so than in the quarter-finals.”

Emotional win for Denmark

Earlier, Denmark eased into the quarter-finals with a 4-0 win over Wales in Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena thanks to two goals from Kasper Dolberg’s and late goals from Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite.

The Danes, carried by a wave of emotion, are the neutrals’ favourites after overcoming the trauma of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in their opening game.

Denmark's players celebrate after winning the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between Wales and Denmark at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on June 26, 2021. Piroschka van de Wouw / POOL / AFP
Denmark’s players celebrate after winning the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between Wales and Denmark at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on June 26, 2021.
Piroschka van de Wouw / POOL / AFP

 

They will face the Netherlands or Czech Republic in the quarter-finals after winning a knockout tie at the European Championship for the first time since they stunned the continent by winning the tournament in 1992.

It is exactly 29 years since Denmark defeated Germany in the final in Gothenburg having famously only qualified because war-torn Yugoslavia disintegrated.

“It is hard to believe that this is reality,” said coach Kasper Hjulmand. “Johan Cruyff is one of my great inspirations and this was also Christian’s first home after leaving Denmark.

“I am really grateful for all the support we got, and the guys are true warriors. Being in the quarter-finals now is amazing.”

Wales, surprise semi-finalists at Euro 2016, found the majority of the stadium filled by Danish supporters, with fans barred from entering the Netherlands from Britain due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Robert Page’s side made a promising start as Gareth Bale drilled just wide from distance, but Dolberg curled Denmark ahead with a sumptuous strike shortly before the half hour.

The Nice forward, brought into the team as a replacement for Yussuf Poulsen, then pounced on a poor clearance by Neco Williams to fire home a second just after half-time.

Maehle added a third goal for Denmark two minutes from time before Harry Wilson was sent off for a lazy challenge on the Atalanta player.

Braithwaite rubbed further salt into Welsh wounds with a fourth goal in stoppage time as Denmark became the first team in European Championship history to score four in successive matches.

“We tried to play in the second half but made a mistake to concede which killed the momentum on our side,” said Wales and Real Madrid forward Bale.

“To finish how we did is disappointing… the boys are frustrated and angry, but I’d rather we go out like that, kicking and screaming, than laying off and doing nothing.”

 

AFP

Austria To Phase Out AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

File Photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

 

Austria will phase out AstraZeneca from its Covid-19 immunisation programme because of delivery problems and wariness among the population following reports of the vaccine’s rare side effects, the health minister said.

Austria becomes the third European country to drop AstraZeneca, after Norway and Denmark ditched the vaccine over rare cases of severe blood clots in people receiving the jab.

“We will probably continue to do first shots with AstraZeneca until early June, and then that’s it… AstraZeneca will be discontinued,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told private TV channel Puls 24 late Monday.

Mueckstein said those who received a first shot of AstraZeneca would still get a second shot of the vaccine, but officials would determine which other vaccine to use for any refresher jabs later.

Mueckstein, a doctor himself, insisted AstraZeneca was “safe” but said Austria had taken the decision to discontinue it because of “bad compliance among the population”, “bad press” and “delivery problems”.

The European Commission is suing the British-Swedish pharmaceutical group over its failure to deliver millions of doses of its vaccine.

A third of Austria’s nine million people has received at least one Covid-19 shot.

The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization both recommend continued use of the vaccine, arguing that the benefits far outweigh the associated risks.

AFP

Funny Old World: The Week’s Offbeat News

Taiwan’s government says the sudden name changes are fishy. (Photo: AFP)

 

 

Our weekly roundup of offbeat stories from around the world:

Only codding

Taiwan has been forced to ask people to stop changing their name to “salmon” after scores of young people did just that to take up a giveaway at a chain of sushi restaurants.

Any customer whose ID card contained “Gui Yu” — the Chinese characters for salmon — could get all the sushi they and five friends could eat.

But what has been dubbed “Salmon Chaos” drove officials to distraction, with a minister forced to appeal to people to be “more rational”.

“I just changed my name this morning,” said a student called Ma who changed his name to “Explosive Good Looking Salmon”.

He had already eaten $235 worth of free sushi, he boasted.

A woman called Tung said she and two friends also changed their names.

“We’ll just change our names back afterwards,” she said.

Other fishy names reported in local media include “Salmon Prince”, “Meteor Salmon King” and “Salmon Fried Rice”

And one far-sighted man has added 36 new characters to his name, most of them seafood-related, including crab, abalone, and lobster, in anticipation of the next free offer.

Sadly no one has yet had the foresight to call themselves Teri Yaki.

Choo moo!

To India, a video of a passenger train rolling backward for 35 kilometres (20 miles) went viral after the driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a cow.

Cows are sacred to Hindus but passengers were not amused when the New Delhi to Tanakpur service began to roll backwards out of control back to the capital after the sudden stop.

North Eastern Railway did not explain how the train was halted but said it “stopped just short of Khatima yard safely”.

There was no word on how the cow is doing.

Austria’s mask beef

In another crushing victory for bovines, judges decreed that Austrians can now wear cow masks and not be arrested for breaching the country’s ban on face coverings.

Its constitutional court said police were wrong to fine an animal rights activist for wearing a cow mask at a protest against intensive dairy farming.

The controversial 2017 ban aimed at the Islamic face veil has been further called into question since the coronavirus pandemic made mask-wearing mandatory in shops, public transport, and crowded public places.

 

In this photo taken on December 2, 2020 a face mask hangs with a table tennis bat cover at a park in Beijing. GREG BAKER / AFP
In this photo taken on December 2, 2020 a face mask hangs with a table tennis bat cover at a park in Beijing. GREG BAKER / AFP

 

Aussies employ jellyfish terror

Australia added another chapter to its long love story with insects and animals that can kill you when its Olympic surfing team named themselves  “The Irukandjis” after a deadly and difficult to pronounce jellyfish.

With other national sports teams already called the Wallabies, Crocs, Sharks, Emus, Koalas, Kookaburras, Dingos, Wombats, Firetails, Joeys, Kangaroos and Jillaroos, there wasn’t much wildlife left for the surfers, who will be making their debut at the Tokyo Games.

The irukandji — pronounced ira-khan-ji — is a tiny and highly venomous box jellyfish with an incredibly painful sting.

So painful in fact that researchers believe it one of the world’s most poisonous creatures — all the more to swell Aussie hearts with pride.

“The Irukandji is ferocious in the water and that is how our Australian surfers approach competition,” said seven-time world surfing champion, the wonderfully-named Layne Beachley.

The team got permission from the Yirrganydji people of northern-eastern Australia to use the name, and their kit is being designed by an indigenous artist.

The surfers will be joined in Japan by Australia’s  football team, the Socceroos, and their under-23 Olympic outfit, the Olyroos.

Given the difficulty of chanting “Come on you Irukandjis!” — and the Australian genius for shortening names — some suspect the surfers may end up being called “the Jellies” or even “the Jeez”.

Austria Suspends AstraZeneca Batch After Death

(Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Austria will stop using doses from one batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine while the death of a nurse who received it is investigated, health officials have said.

The decision had been taken as a precaution, the National Office for Health System Safety (BASG) said late on Sunday, adding that there was “no evidence of a causal link” between the jab and the woman’s death.

The 49-year-old nurse died two days after having the jab from “severe blood coagulation problems” and another woman who received a jab from the same batch developed a pulmonary embolism, but is now recovering.

Both women received the vaccination at a hospital in the town of Zwettl, west of the capital Vienna.

An autopsy is being carried out at Vienna’s AKH hospital on the woman who died, with the results expected in the coming weeks.

“Based on the known clinical data, a causal relationship cannot be established, as thrombotic events are not one of the typical side effects of the vaccination,” the BASG statement said.

“The necessary investigation is currently underway… to definitively rule out any possible link.”

Regional prosecutors confirmed to AFP that no judicial steps would be taken against the hospital as no anomalies in the delivery, storage or administration of the vaccine had been reported.

Since inoculation campaigns began in earnest, isolated cases have been reported in some countries of people dying shortly after receiving a vaccine.

-AFP

Israel, Denmark, Austria Agree Deal For Vaccine Development

A file photo of COVID-19 vaccine doses at a manufacturing plant.

 

Leaders from Israel, Austria and Denmark announced Thursday in Jerusalem an alliance for the development and production of future generation coronavirus vaccines, a deal that has already sparked criticism in Europe.

The three countries will launch “a research and development fund” and begin “joint efforts for common production of future vaccines”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a news conference alongside his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

“We don’t know how long… (current coronavirus) vaccines will hold up,” Netanyahu added.

“Is it half a year, is it a year, is it two years, is it more, is it less? We don’t know. Therefore we have to protect our people against the reemergence of this pandemic, or mutations.”

He did not specify the fund amount or the production capacity goal.

Frederiksen said the three countries “all have promising research that could pave the way for a next generation platform”, adding they “would like also to explore possible cooperation on clinical trials”.

READ ALSO: How Vaccines Became Ammunition In Global Diplomacy

Denmark and Austria are European Union members, and the Israeli partnership has elicited criticism from fellow EU state France, which said the European framework remained the best way to guarantee “solidarity” within the bloc.

Kurz had announced the alliance on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines”, leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.

But France defended the agency and insisted that “the most effective solution for meeting our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework”.

“This is what guarantees the solidarity among member states that is more essential than ever,” it said late Wednesday.

But Kurz on Thursday said: “We need to cooperate on this issue within the European Union… but we also need to cooperate worldwide.”

He added that “Israel is the first country in the world to show that it is possible to defeat the virus”.

– ‘No contradiction’ –

Israel, among the world leaders in Covid-19 vaccinations per capita, launched a massive inoculation drive in December, backed by a deal with US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, which mounted an airlift of its vaccine developed with German firm BioNTech in exchange for data on its effects.

The Jewish state has so far administered at least one of two recommended doses to more than half its nine million-strong population, and led a series of large-scale trials that have so far confirmed the efficacy of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The rapid rollout has allowed for shops to re-open and activities in public spaces to resume, some of which, such as sports centres, are reserved for people with a “green badge” indicating they’ve had two doses.

Netanyahu, who took his Danish and Austrian guests on a tour of a gym on Thursday, and has opened the door for other countries to also join the alliance.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has acknowledged “significant” shortcomings in the EU’s vaccination policies, while criticising what he called “attempts at secession”.

Austria’s neighbours the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have already bypassed the EMA to approve Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines.

The EU has seen a sharp shortfall in the first three months of this year of deliveries it had been counting on to kickstart its vaccine roll-out, with Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca facing fierce criticism from the European Commission for supplying just a fraction of the vaccine doses it had promised to deliver to the bloc.

The European Commission, however, refrained from censuring the Israel-Austria-Denmark alliance.

“We welcome the fact that member states are looking at all possible options to improve the common European response to the to the virus,” said commission spokesman Eric Mamer.

“For us, there is no contradiction,” he added.

AFP

Austria Bets On Millions Of Tests To Contain COVID-19

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 4, 2020 People get coronavirus tests at the Stadthalle city hall in Vienna, Austria, where a test centre has been installed as mass coronavirus testing started in the states of Vorarlberg and Tyrol as well as the capital Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

 

While Austria has struggled to contain the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it is fast emerging as a world leader in testing as a way to reopen schools and businesses.

The small nation with a population of just under nine million tested three million people last week alone, with the mass-testing strategy forming a key plank for getting pupils back into the classroom.

Half of those three million tests were administered in schools, where twice-weekly tests have been mandatory since in-person lessons restarted earlier this month.

Only a tiny percentage of parents have refused to have their children tested under the scheme — and those children are not allowed to return to school.

The other 1.5 million tests were carried out at more than 500 dedicated centres, around 900 pharmacies and roughly 1,000 companies.

“Our strategy is to have a high frequency of tests and to make them very easily accessible — it’s the only way to keep the pandemic in check,” Katharina Reich, the health ministry’s chief medical officer, told AFP.

A negative test result, no older than 48 hours, is now required at a range of locations — from hair salons to elderly care homes, or ski resorts.

The seven-day average of daily tests is 24 per 1,000 in Austria, compared to 7.7 in Britain and just 1.77 in neighbouring Germany, according to the Our World In Data website.

“But we want that to be higher — much higher,” Reich said, explaining that the goal is “for 60 to 70 percent of the population to get tested at least twice a week, or even three times a week if they want to see risk groups, like the elderly.”

She says tests are a key weapon in the fight against the pandemic until the vaccine rollout has been completed.

From March 1, every person will be allocated up to five “living-room” antigen tests, so called because they only require a shallow swab of the nasal cavity and so can be done at home.

– ‘Return to normality’ –

Yveta Unzeitig, who has already been tested several times because the publishing house she works at participates in the testing drive, said she thought expanding tests was a good idea.

“It sounds smart, but they should do it for everything — with a negative test, I’d also like to be able to go to a restaurant, or for a coffee with friends,” she said, referring to the still closed hospitality industry.

“It sounds like it’d make all of us safer, and like we’d then able to return to normality,” said her daughter Yvonne, who works at an insurance company.

Professor Monika Redlberger-Fritz, head of department at Medical University Vienna’s centre for virology, says that turning up as many cases as possible through testing is “very, very important”.

However, she cautions that a negative antigen result from a nose or throat swab only shows that the person is not highly contagious — not that he or she is not contagious at all.

“Just because you take the test, that doesn’t mean that you can go straight to your grandma and hug her and kiss her,” she said.

FFP2 masks and an interpersonal distance of two metres (six feet) continue to be mandatory in places like stores and public buildings.

Like elsewhere, Austria is also contending with the spread of virus mutations, including the more infectious South African variant.

– Pandemic fatigue –
How successful the millions of tests have been will be evaluated over the coming weeks, especially by looking at changes in intensive care unit capacities, said Redlberger-Fritz.

Increasing testing is partly a response to growing resistance to lockdowns — hundreds now protest against the government’s pandemic measures every weekend — and a widespread “pandemic fatigue”.

The first mass testing drives began late last year, but the initiative seemed to falter as relatively few people turned up to the designated centres: “Mass tests without masses,” ran the headlines.

However, making tests mandatory for some sectors and investing more in public awareness campaigns seems to have had the desired effect.

At one pharmacy in Vienna, 21-year-old Sascha said he, like many Austrians in recent weeks, had got a test “to be able to get a haircut”.

But he said he finds the requirement “arduous” and says he will only get tested — or vaccinated — if he absolutely has to.

Austrians Defy Ban To Protest COVID-19 Restrictions

People take part in a demonstration against the ongoing restrictions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Vienna on January 31, 2021. – The forbidden rally is under the motto Christian walk. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

 

Around 5,000 people defied a ban to march Sunday in Vienna in protest against a curfew and lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

The march was organised by the far-right FPOe party, and many participants ignored government regulations on mask wearing and the respect for minimum distances from each other.

Neo-nazi militants and thugs were reportedly among the crowd, which refused to disband and blocked traffic as it began to march towards the national parliament.

Police then intervened and detained some protestors.

It was the first time that the FPOe, and member Herbert Kickl who is a former interior minister, officially called for a protest against the third Austrian lockdown.

READ ALSO: Israel To Send 5,000 Vaccine Doses To Palestinians

“We are seeing unprecedented censure,” Kickl told media Saturday, before the party put in a second request for a rally permit which was also refused.

The reason for the refusal was given as a risk of increased tranmisssion rates of new variants, and a “lack of contact traceability” among those who were to take part in the march.

Austrian schools, sports clubs, hotels, restaurants, cultural venues and many stores have been shut to stem the spread of Covid-19, but the country’s iconic ski resorts have been allowed to remain open.

Thousands Of Anti-Maskers Stage Protest In Austria

Demonstrators march without masks during a protest against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions at the Ringstrasse in Vienna, Austria on January 16, 2021. ALEX HALADA / AFP
Demonstrators march without masks during a protest against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions at the Ringstrasse in Vienna, Austria on January 16, 2021. ALEX HALADA / AFP

 

Around 10,000 people rallied in the Austrian capital of Vienna on Saturday to protest coronavirus restrictions, calling on the government to resign, Austrian police said. 

With the Alpine country currently in its third lockdown since March in a bid to bring the pandemic under control, and with non-essential shops, concert halls and theatres, sports centres and schools all closed, the protesters’ anger was directed at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, as well as at the media.

“The numbers of deaths we’re being given, that’s rubbish. I don’t want to end up like China where you don’t have any right to do anything,” one woman who gave her first name as Gabi told AFP.

READ ALSO: Global Death Toll From COVID-19 Crosses Two Million

Brandishing banners proclaiming: “You’re the disease. We’re the cure” and waving Austrian flags, most of the demonstrators refused to wear masks or respect social distancing rules, including far-right politician and former deputy chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

A counter-demonstration organised by the far-left comprising a crowd of around 500, according to police estimates, also took place, denouncing “anti-mask lunacy”.

Austria, which has a population of 8.9 million, has reported a total 7,053 deaths from Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

A panel of experts has recommended to Chancellor Kurz that the current restrictions should not be eased as planned on January 25, as the number of infections is showing no sign of slowing and the British variant of the virus continues to circulate.

The scientific advisers suggested making it mandatory to work from home and to extend the lockdown.

The government is scheduled to announce new measures on Sunday.

 

AFP

Austria Scraps Plan To Ease Lockdown After Testing Row

GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP.

 

Austria’s government on Monday effectively extended its third coronavirus lockdown, scrapping a proposal that would have allowed citizens to access some services if they took part in a mass-testing programme.

The country’s current lockdown is scheduled to run until January 24.

However, the government had proposed that those who tested negative in a nationwide, free Covid-19 mass-testing programme be allowed to visit shops, event venues, restaurants, cafes and bars from January 18.

But the plan would have obliged those who did not participate to stay at home for a week longer.

Opposition parties harshly criticised the scheme, questioning the point of one-off tests and asking how the restrictions could be enforced.

After a high volume of complaints overwhelmed the parliament website, all three opposition parties on Sunday announced that they would block the necessary legislation in the upper chamber.

READ ALSO: EU Defends Its Slow COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-Out

“That means that exiting lockdown early through getting a test won’t be possible,” Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Monday morning.

Shops, restaurants and other services will therefore remain closed until January 24.

As long as the number of new infections per day doesn’t come below 1,000, “there’s no point discussing relaxation measures”, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, head of the largest opposition Social Democrat (SPOe) party, said Sunday.

Currently, around 1,500 residents of the small, Alpine nation are testing positive per day.

The current, third lockdown came into effect on December 26, just twenty days after the previous lockdown ended.

Austria was generally seen to have acted swiftly during the first wave of the pandemic, escaping its worst effects, but critics have accused the government of failing to adequately prepare for the second wave.

The country’s per capita infection rates climbed to among the highest in the world in late November, outbreaks in elderly care facilities emerging as a particular problem in recent weeks.