Christmas Markets Shut; Hotels Closed for Tourists

Austria halted public life on Monday as the fourth national COVID-19 lockdown began, making it the first country in Western Europe to reintroduce the drastic and unpopular measure this fall in the face of a spike in coronavirus cases.

This closure is similar to the previous one but the first to be introduced since vaccines became widely available. The government says most places where people congregate, such as restaurants, cafes, bars, theaters, non-essential stores and hairdressers cannot open their doors for 10 days initially and maybe even 20 days.

The Christmas markets, a big draw for tourists who are just getting started, should also close, but for a last-minute change, the ski lifts can remain open for vaccinations. However, hotels will be close to tourists who have not already stayed there when the lockdown begins.

“It is a situation to which we have to respond now,” Health Minister Wolfgang Moekstein told ORF television on Sunday evening.

“Lockdown, a relatively difficult method, with a sledgehammer, is the only option to reduce (the casualty) numbers here.”

The Conservative-led government imposed a lockdown on the unvaccinated last week, but daily infections have continued to spread well above their previous peak a year ago, and intensive care beds are in short supply.

The government announced Friday that it is reimposing a full lockdown from Monday and will make vaccination mandatory from February 1, a move few countries have taken.

People can leave their homes for a limited number of reasons such as going to work or buying necessities. Walking is allowed with no time or distance limit. Only one person from another home can be met at a time.

Workplaces and schools will remain open, but the government has asked parents to keep their children at home if possible.

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