Austria begins lockdown after Covid curbs spark protests across Europe

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Protests and violence erupted across Europe over stringent COVID-19 restrictions to curb the latest wave of infections, as Austria took the drastic step of introducing a full national lockdown on Monday.

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Demonstrations took place over the weekend in several countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Crotia, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland, sparking public anger over coronavirus measures such as partial lockdowns, strict restrictions on unvaccinated and compulsory jobs.

Europe has again become the epicenter of the pandemic, accounting for half of global cases and deaths, with many countries experiencing record numbers of daily infections in recent weeks.


The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was “very concerned” about the spread of COVID-19 on the continent and warned that 500,000 more deaths could be recorded by March unless immediate action is taken.

Riots broke out in several towns and cities in the Netherlands on Sunday evening for the third consecutive night. The most serious violence broke out in Rotterdam, with 51 arrests and three people hospitalized, when police opened fire after rioters set cars on fire and set off fireworks.

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Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Abataleb said the protests had turned into an “orgy of violence”.

Dutch protesters were rallying against plans to restrict access to indoor spaces for people with “corona passes”, pretending they have jawbones or have recovered from the infection.

Police and protesters clashed on the streets of Brussels on Sunday over restrictions that mandated widespread use of masks and working from home.

About 35,000 people took part in rallies, which began peacefully before the violence broke out, with police using water cannons and tear gas at protesters, who pelted stones and hurled bombs.

In Croatia, thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Zagreb, holding Croatian flags, nationalist and religious symbols and anti-vaccination banners. There were protests in Denmark against plans to forcibly lay off public sector workers, and rallies in Switzerland over the idea of ​​a COVID certificate that could be mandatory to enter some public places.

Austria’s complete lockdown has been introduced in Europe for the first time since the vaccine became widely available. The government also said last week that it would make vaccination mandatory from February 1, as some countries have taken up.

The measures sparked massive protests on Saturday, as thousands of protesters, many of them from far-right groups, marched through Vienna. Officials said the lockdown would initially last for 10 days, but it could last up to 20 days.

“This is a situation where we have to react now,” Austria’s Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said in an interview on Sunday night.

“A lockdown, a relatively difficult method, a sledgehammer, is the only option here to reduce the number of infections.”

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany is considering making vaccinations mandatory. Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday that most Germans would be “vaccinated, cured or dead” from Covid-19 in a few months, as he urged more citizens to jab.

In Hungary, people lined up for COVID-19 shots outside Budapest’s main hospital on Monday as the government offered jobs without prior registration for the first time.

Meanwhile in France, hard-right presidential candidate Eric Zemour said fears about the latest coronavirus pandemic are over and he will aim to eliminate the country’s COVID-19 health pass. Zemor’s stance is in contrast to the position of most governments across Europe.


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