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Austria will go into a national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of COVID-19

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Austria will go into a national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of coronavirus cases, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced Friday, as new COVID-19 infections hit a record high amid a pandemic surge across Europe.

The lockdown will start Monday and initially will last for 10 days, Schallenberg said.

And starting Feb. 1, the country will also make vaccinations mandatory.

Most stores will close, and cultural events will be canceled next week. People will be able to leave their homes only for certain specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

Wolfgang Mueckstein, the country’s health minister, said that kindergartens and schools would remain open for those who needed to go there but all parents were asked to keep their children at home if possible.

“We do not want a fifth wave,” Schallenberg said, according to ORF. “Nor do we want a sixth or seventh wave.”

The full lockdown is the latest effort to control rapidly rising case numbers. It’s the fourth nationwide lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. On Friday, the country reported 15,809 new infections, an all-time high.

Earlier this month, Austria introduced rules that barred unvaccinated people from restaurants, hotels and large events.

And starting Monday, the government is imposing a national lockdown only for the unvaccinated.

Government officials had long promised that vaccinated people would no longer face lockdown restrictions: Over the summer, then-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared the pandemic “over” for those who had received the vaccine. But as virus cases continued to skyrocket, the government said it had no choice but to extend it to everyone.

For the past seven days, the country has reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new COVID-19 patients, and deaths have been rising again, too. So far, 11,951 people have died of the virus in Austria.

The situation is especially dire in the regions of Salzburg and Upper Austria, which have been particularly hard hit by the rising case numbers. In Salzburg, for example, the seven-day rate of new infections is nearly twice the national average.

Hospitals in both states have warned in recent days that their ICUs were reaching capacity, and hospitals in Salzburg had begun discussing potential triage procedures to take only the worst cases.

Austria, a country of 8.9 million, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe — only 65.7% of the population are fully vaccinated.

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