Austria on Friday said it will start a 10-day lockdown on Monday and make vaccination for COVID-19 mandatory in February, making it the first western nation to announce such a drastic step.
Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the lockdown was designed to stem a fourth wave of the virus and that persuasion campaigns failed to lift vaccination rates. Roughly 66% of the country’s 8.9 million residents are vaccinated, a better rate than the U.S. but lower than much of Western Europe.
“For a long time, the consensus in this country was that we didn’t want mandatory vaccination,” Mr. Schallenberg said. “For a long time, perhaps too long.”
It is unclear what the penalty for avoiding the shots would be after Feb. 1, though the chancellor said to expect fines. Far-right parties plan to protest the decision.
Only a few other countries have imposed mandatory vaccination, including Indonesia, Micronesia and Turkmenistan, according to a New York Times report.
The 10-day lockdown, meanwhile, is an eerie reminder of societal restrictions that swept the world last year. Austrians will still be able to go out to buy groceries, and schools will remain open because students are tested regularly.
The country is recording 12,000 cases per day, up from less than 100 per day in early July.
In the U.S., where cases are surging to more than 80,000 per day, President Biden hasn’t proposed new lockdowns, but he is mandating the vaccine for the federal workforce and fighting to impose a vaccinate-or-test rule on large businesses in early January. Simultaneously, he is pushing a booster program to backfill waning immunity in those who got their shots the earliest.