Austria becomes first Western nation to order compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations and global markets tumble

Austria has become the first Western country to announce it will make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory. The measure will go into effect on Feb. 1, but as the country’s infection rates are currently out of control, it will also endure a fourth nationwide stay-at-home lockdown from Monday.

The lockdown will last between 10 and 20 days and, while it won’t close schools, parents are being encouraged to have their kids study from home. The vaccination mandate will apply to everyone who is eligible for a COVID jab, and its announcement comes a week after Austria announced a similar lockdown that targeted unvaccinated adults, which may continue after the general lockdown ends.

Germany, which just decided to impose its own restrictions on unvaccinated people, is not ruling out a lockdown for everyone, its health minister warned Friday morning. Markets around the world swooned on the news coming out of Central Europe.

Less than two-thirds of the Austrian population is vaccinated. The country recorded over 15,000 new cases Thursday; a month previously, it recorded less than 1,900. Austria’s rapidly rising seven-day incidence rate is currently nearing 1,000 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

“The lockdown will break the fourth wave; the way out of the fifth wave is vaccination, vaccination, vaccination,” said Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg—who took the reins last month after the resignation of scandal-mired Sebastian Kurz—said “irresponsible” campaigners against vaccination had caused “overfilled intensive care stations and enormous human suffering.”

The government also said people will be able to take booster doses after four months.

Many countries have announced vaccine mandates for classes of people, such as public sector employees and health workers, but until now the only countries to hit all adults with a mandate have been Indonesia, Turkmenistan, and Micronesia.

Austria’s rapidly advancing COVID measures underscore how quickly the situation is changing in Europe, where in recent days Belgium announced a work-from-home mandate, the Netherlands reentered partial lockdown, and Sweden—the great model of laissez-faire pandemic management—said it would finally introduce vaccine passes. Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany are also following Austria’s lead on restrictions for the unvaccinated.

The latest Austrian lockdown news instantly hit the euro—down 0.7% against the dollar—and European markets, which had previously been having a better morning; the Stoxx 600 also dropped 0.7%.

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