Market sentiment took a hit Friday from news that Austria will institute a 10-day nationwide lockdown starting Monday. It can be extended up to 20 days. Germany is considering similar measures or, at the least, hasn’t ruled them out.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg blamed the unvaccinated. “There are too many among us who haven’t shown solidarity,” Schallenberg said, following a meeting with provincial officials.
Austria will now make vaccination compulsory. The mandate will be imposed from February 1. Vaccinations, the health ministry said, are the only way out of the pandemic.
Earlier this week, unvaccinated Austrians 12 and up were restricted to their homes with exceptions for activities deemed essential. Those who hadn’t received a shot or recovered from a previous infection couldn’t go outdoors other than to buy food, seek medical care, go to work or attend school. The program constituted Europe’s strictest measures to encourage vaccination. The country’s national vaccine mandate is the continent’s first.
Police conducted spot checks of vaccination status in public spaces as part of an effort to enforce the lockdown on those who refused to be inoculated. Fines were €500 for breaking lockdown and €1,450 for refusing to comply with vaccination status checks. Austrian police conducted 15,000 checks on Monday and Tuesday alone, according to the Interior Minister. 120 violations were identified.
Schallenberg “bemoaned fake news and anti-vaxxers” while “conced[ing] that his public-health measures haven’t worked,” Bloomberg wrote Friday, adding that “compulsory vaccination will fall under Austrian administrative rather than criminal law… suggest[ing] people may need to show proof of vaccination from February to clear basic bureaucratic hurdles like enrolling in school and other public institutions.” Attorneys are still working out the specifics, apparently.
Austria logged somewhere between 14,000 and 15,000 new cases on Thursday, depending on the 24-hour window you choose. Hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and, unfortunately, deaths, are all rising. The figure (below) gives you some context.
Some two thirds of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, a figure Schallenberg has characterized as “shameful.” Besides Liechtenstein, Austria has the lowest vaccination rate in Western Europe.
“For a long time, the political consensus has been that we don’t want compulsory vaccinations in this country,” Schallenberg said Friday. “But we have to face reality.”
The Right-wing party Freedom Party was melodramatic. “As of today, Austria is a dictatorship,” the party said. It’s also overrun with a deadly virus.
“Nobody wants this — a lockdown is the very last resort, a crude instrument,” Health Minister Wolfgang Muckstein said. “[It’s] an imposition, but it’s the most reliable instrument we have to break this fourth wave.”
The rules of the new lockdown are familiar. People will only be allowed to leave their homes for groceries, work or to get a “basic” amount of exercise. Once the new lockdown is over, the existing lockdown on the unvaccinated will continue.
In Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn said the government “shouldn’t rule anything out,” when queried about a new lockdown. As for a nationwide vaccine mandate in Germany, Spahn said he’s “skeptical because I have a feeling about what it would do to our country.”
Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s RKI public-health institute, said “the whole of Germany is one big outbreak.”
Meanwhile, Christine Lagarde told the Frankfurt European Banking Congress on Friday that “we must not rush into a premature [policy] tightening when faced with passing or supply-driven inflation shocks.” Monetary policy, she said, “must remain patient and persistent, while being alert to any possible destabilizing dynamics.”