Police in Austria have begun carrying out routine checks on commuters to ensure compliance with a nationwide “lockdown for the unvaccinated”, as the Alpine country tries to get on top of one of the most rapidly rising infection rates in Europe.
The restrictions, which came into effect on Monday morning, will affect almost 2 million Austrian citizens aged 12 and older who have so far declined to get a jab against Covid-19. The 356,000 people who have been vaccinated only once can be released from lockdown if they show a negative PCR test.
Those who are found to be in breach of the rules face fines between €500 and €3,600.
“It can happen any time and anywhere,” the interior minister, Karl Nehammer of the Austrian People’s party, said of the police checks. “Every citizen has to expect to be checked.”
But a long list of exceptions has led critics to warn that the partial lockdown will be difficult to enforce: unvaccinated people will still be able to go to work with a negative test result, do essential shopping and outdoor physical exercise, meet their partner or other select individuals, and “satisfy their basic religious needs”.
Schoolchildren, who are tested regularly, are also exempt from the lockdown.
The measures, details of which were announced on Sunday by the chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, are provisionally designed to last for 10 days, though the government said it would discuss potential further restrictions on Wednesday, such as a nighttime curfew that would also apply to those who have been vaccinated.
“My aim is very clear: to get the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, not to lock up the unvaccinated,”Schallenberg told ORF radio station.
The week before the new restrictions came into place, almost 130,000 people in Austria chose to be vaccinated for the first time, the highest weekly number recorded since the second week of July.
The far-right Freedom party has said it will seek legal action against the lockdown measures and announced plans to organise a protest in Vienna on Saturday.