Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’

, Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’, The Today News USA

One of Austria’s main opposition parties has warned the country ‘is now a dictatorship’ after the government vowed to make Covid vaccines mandatory for everyone from February next year to tackle a wave of Covid cases. 

Herbert Kickl, leader of the right-wing populist FPO party, slammed Friday’s announcement – which also plunged the country into full lockdown – branding it ‘unconstitutional’ and calling on the country’s top court to intervene.

‘Because the government has failed since the beginning of the pandemic, the population now has to pay for it with an unconstitutional mandatory vaccination,’ he said. ‘In almost two years, the government has not been able to develop effective strategies to protect the people.

‘Instead it has set up new harassment week after week to curtail healthy people in their basic rights bit by bit. And now we have reached a level with compulsory vaccination that nobody actually thought was possible. 

‘We cannot and must not put up with that,’ he added, while urging the constitutional court to issue an immediate ruling on whether or not the law will be allowed to stand.

He spoke out after Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Muckstein announced that anyone who is not vaccinated against Covid will be penalised – with Mr Schallenberg saying the punishment would likely be a non-criminal fine, though added the details are still being worked out.

Mr Muckstein said that constitutional lawyers were consulted ahead of the announcement and said it appears the mandate would be legal, though a ‘proper review process’ will take place over the next several months. Once the review is complete the law will be brought into force, with a deadline of February 1 ‘at the latest’.

Austria currently has one of the highest Covid infection rates in western Europe which has been blamed on its sluggish vaccination drive, with just 66 per cent of people fully jabbed. That is above the European average of 62 per cent, but well below the 70 per cent theoretically needed for herd immunity.

The country reported 15,809 new cases Friday – another one-day record – with an infection rate of 990.7 per 100,000 over the last week, one of Europe’s highest.

It is not the first country to make vaccines mandatory. Indonesia required all adults to get jabbed back in February, followed by dictatorships Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in July. Dozens of other countries require specific groups to have jabs. Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate requires workers at any US firm with more than 100 employees to get jabbed, or else test on a weekly basis.

Schallenberg and Muckstein also plunged the country back into a full lockdown to start on Monday and last until at least December 12, with a review after 10 days. Even if the decision to lift the lockdown is taken, the ministers said unvaccinated people will be required to stay in lockdown longer. 

The shock announcement came as… 

  • Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, said ‘the whole country is one big outbreak’ as he called for bars, restaurants and other public spaces to be closed
  • Germany passed new laws that will automatically trigger restrictions if hospital admissions in a state breach a certain level, with unvaccinated people facing stricter curbs
  • Germans were told to work from home where possible and limit their social contacts, with health minister Jens Spahn refusing to rule out a lockdown over Christmas
  • Europe’s Covid cases hit an all-time high, with 310,000 infections logged Wednesday – higher than the previous one-day record of 290,000 registered around this time last year 
  • Bavaria, one of the hardest-hit German regions, cancelled its popular Christmas markets while hotbed regions were ordered to shut bars, restaurants, sports and cultural facilities
  • Ireland put its hospitals on a ‘war footing’ for the next fortnight, warning doctors they may have to make ‘unthinkable’ choices about who to treat if intensive care units overflow
  • Italy said it will tighten its own Covid rules starting next week and it is ‘inevitable’ that the unvaccinated will be hit harder than the vaccinated 
  • Europe’s medical regulator said Merck’s anti-Covid pill, which helps reduce the severity of infections, can be used in emergencies only. The UK has already given the pill full approval
, Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’, The Today News USA

, Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’, The Today News USA

Police officers check the vaccination status of visitors during a patrol on a Christmas market in Vienna, as the unvaccinated remain in lockdown ahead of a full nationwide lockdown that will come into force on Monday

, Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’, The Today News USA

, Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’, The Today News USA

Police check the vaccination status of a stall worker at a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, as rules confining the unvaccinated to their homes remain in effect

, Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’, The Today News USA

, Europe’s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts ‘dictatorship’, The Today News USA

A police officer checks the vaccination status of visitors during a patrol on a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria

Austria’s vaccine mandate: Is it legal?

The two foundational texts dictating the rights of citizens in Austria are the 1867 Act on the General Rights of Citizens for the Kingdoms and Countries Represented in the Imperial Council and the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights.

Neither act specifically outlaws mandatory medical procedures, however they do contain several clauses that could be interpreted as outlawing them – depending on how Austria’s new law is constructed.

For example, the 1867 act guarantees everyone ‘full freedom of belief and conscience’ that gives people the right to choose their religious and political beliefs and live their lives accordingly.

Meanwhile the European Convention contains Article 8 which guarantees a ‘right to family and private life’ that is free from state interference. 

Article 9 gives people the right to ‘freedom of conscience and religion’, and practices associated with those beliefs, and Article 10 guarantees the ‘right to freedom of expression’.

However, top constitutional lawyers in Austria have said the law the government is considering – which is likely to fine people who refuse to be vaccinated – is unlikely to violate the 1867 act.

This is because the law would not directly force people to undergo the procedure, but would instead impose non-criminal penalties on those who choose not to.

Irmgard Griss, former President of the Supreme Court and candidate for the Federal Presidency, told Der Standard that it is also legally possible ‘to restrict the freedom of the individual if it is necessary to protect the health of the population.’

Meinhard Lukas, a top constitutional law specialist at the Johannes Kepler University, added that there is ‘no constitutional expert and no legal scientist who is of the opinion that such a general compulsory vaccination is unconstitutional.’

It is unclear whether the European Court of Human Rights would come to the same conclusion, but a recent ruling in a case brought by parents in the Czech Republic provides clues.

In April this year, the court was asked to decide whether it was legal for Czech preschools to deny places to unvaccinated children, and whether the government could fine parents who failed to vaccinate their children.

The court was asked specifically to look at whether the mandate violated Article 8 and Article 9 of the ECHR.

Judges ruled 16-1 that the vaccine mandate may have violated Article 8, the right to a private life, but pointed to an exemption for actions ‘necessary in a democratic society’ – saying vaccines fall into this category.

The judges found that Article 9, right to freedom of belief, had not been violated because the opinions expressed by the parents were not coherent enough to constitute a belief system as defined in the law.

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Speaking today, Schallenberg said: ‘For a long time there was consensus in this country that we do not want vaccinations to be compulsory. For a long time, maybe too long, it was assumed that it would be possible to achieve a high vaccination rate even without an obligation. Now we have to face reality.

‘Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many among us didn’t get vaccinated. The results are overcrowded intensive care units and enormous suffering,’ he added, accusing the un-jabbed of launching an ‘attack on the health system.’

The move is likely to prove hugely controversial, coming after Austria locked down only unvaccinated people in a move dubbed ‘health apartheid’.

The government also outlined its new lockdown measures, saying all non-essential businesses will be closed and people barred from leaving their homes except for ‘essential reasons’.

Working from home is not required but is strongly encouraged, while face-to-face classes will remain in schools – though pupils will be allowed to stay at home without a doctor’s note. 

Elsewhere a fourth wave of infections plunged Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a national emergency, Health Minister Jens Spahn said. He urged people to reduce their social contacts, warning that vaccinations alone would not reduce case numbers. 

Asked if Germany could rule out an Austrian-style full lockdown, Spahn said: ‘We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out.

‘We are in a national emergency,’ he told a news conference.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, said regular medical care cannot be guaranteed anymore in some parts of the country because hospitals and intensive care wards are overstretched.

The German air force confirmed a report by daily Bild that it was preparing to help transfer patients to clinics with free beds.

‘All of Germany is one big outbreak,’ Mr Wieler told reporters in Berlin. ‘This is a nationwide state of emergency. We need to pull the emergency brake.’

He called for urgent additional measures to tackle the rise in Covid-19 cases, which topped 50,000 for the third day running.

The Robert Koch Institute also reported 201 further deaths, taking the toll to 98,739 since the start of the outbreak.

Mr Wieler’s comments came as the upper house of parliament on Friday approved new measures to control the outbreak proposed by the centre-left alliance that emerged after the September 26 national election.

The measures include requirements for people to prove they are vaccinated, recently recovered from Covid-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces or public transport.

Separately, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with the governors of Germany’s 16 states to introduce a new threshold linked to the number of hospital admissions of Covid-19 patients per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

The new three-tier system would require people to show evidence of a vaccination or previous infection to enter public buildings or businesses in states where hospitalisation rates go above 3 in 100,000 people, based on a seven-day average. At present, that will affect 9 of Germany’s 16 states.

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Herbert Kickl, leader of the right-wing populist FPO party, has declared that Austria ‘is now a dictatorship’ after the government said all people will be required to have a Covid vaccine from February

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Austria has one of western Europe’s lowest vaccination rates, meaning it has been hit particularly hard by the newest wave of Covid – prompting the government to make jabs mandatory

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Covid deaths are still far below rates seen during the first and second waves of the pandemic, thought to be in-part due to protection conferred by vaccines, though have started to climb rapidly in recent days

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Austria is among the European nations worst-affected by the new wave of Covid, with infections soaring rapidly even as cases rise across most nations on the continent. Generally, those with the lowest vaccination rates are being hit hardest

Once hospitalisation rates top 6 in 100,000, measures tighten again – with negative tests required in addition to vaccines or previous infections to enter high-risk businesses such as clubs and bars. At present, Bavaria would be the only state affected though Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is a borderline case.

And once the rate goes above 9 in 100,000, regions would go into a more general lockdown with social distancing measures becoming mandatory along with other curbs similar to last winter. Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia have already exceeded this threshold.

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Police officers patrol a Christmas Market near the St. Stephen’s Cathedral to check the vaccination status of visitors in Vienna

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Austrians visiting a Christmas market in Salzburg queue up at a ticket booth to receive a wristband by displaying a valid Covid pass, which is required to make purchases at the market

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

A sign at an Austrian Covid market outlines rules for guests, who must obtain a wristband by showing a valid Covid passport to a ticket office before they can purchase gifts or food. Guests are also advised to avoid crowds and told to register their presence using a QR code if they plan to stay longer than 15 minutes

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg (right) and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein (left) announce that the country is going back into full lockdown and that, from next year, vaccines will be mandatory

Country-wide measures will include evidence of vaccine, infection or a negative test to use public transport, with vaccines made mandatory for heath workers.

Some states are also considering mandatory vaccinations for some professional groups such as medical staff and nursing home employees.

The Bavarian state capital of Munich became the first major German city to cancel its Christmas market, which usually draws some three million visitors, due to a “dramatic” coronavirus resurgence.

Other smaller markets had followed suit but Soeder’s announcement reflects the increasingly drastic state of the virus’s spread, particularly in the south and east of the country.

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Alexander Wei, a stand operator at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, dismantles his stand as the traditional market was cancelled for the second year in a row. Munich was the first city to cancel its Christmas market due to surging cases 

 Meanwhile Ireland, which imposed a night-time curfew on hospitality businesses this week, has today placed its hospitals on a ‘war footing’ with routine operations cancelled to make room for Covid patients amid a warning from the country’s top doctor that intensive care medics face ‘unthinkable’ choices over who to give care to.  

Italy also became the latest country to target the unvaccinated for lockdown, with a government spokesman saying it is ‘inevitable’ they will face harsher restrictions when a new decree is published next week.

The statement came following a meeting between health minister Roberto Speranza and undersecretary of state Roberto Garofoli on Thursday, who agreed the countrys’ outbreak is worsening and action is needed to tackle it. 

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Masked Austrians walk into a Christmas market in Salzburg, with a sign visible that advises them to obtain wristband using a valid Covid pass that they will need to purchase drinks and food, along with a requirement to register using a QR code if they plan to stay longer than 15 minutes

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Two people browse a stall at a Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria, on Friday which has been one of the regions hit hardest by the latest wave of Covid cases

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Europe’s third wave of Covid infections has now exceeded the peak of its second wave with 310,000 infections registered Wednesday, more than the 290,000 recorded at the same point last year

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Deaths across the continent are also slightly below the same time last year, though are climbing rapidly amid fears that it could exceed the second wave as the virus seeks out the unvaccinated

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic once again, with the World Health Organisation warning that the Continent was the only region in the world where deaths had increased – with Covid-related fatalities spiking by five per cent just this week

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Austria is battling a brutal third wave of Covid that has seen infections soar to record levels in recent days, far surpassing last winter’s infection totals and leading to fears that deaths will soon start mounting

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Covid deaths in Austria are not yet at levels seen last winter but have begun to climb rapidly, amid fears that this winter’s death toll may be worse than the last because the country still has large numbers of unvaccinated people

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Europe has given at least one dose of Covid vaccine to around 62 per cent of its total population (above), well below the 70 per cent that is theoretically needed to achieve herd immunity

Countries where vaccines are already mandatory

Austria is the first Western nation to mandate vaccines, but it far from the first globally.

A handful of tinpot dictatorships, smaller nations, and at least one large democracy has already issued vaccine mandates. They are:

Indonesia: President Joko Widodo made jabs mandatory in February this year, with anyone who refuses facing a £250 fine – roughly two months’ salary – and disqualification from receiving state benefits

Tajikistan: From July this year, all adults over the age of 18 were required to get vaccinated by order of the country’s Covid task-force. It did not specify a penalty for those who refuse

Turkmenistan: Though dictator Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has refused to acknowledge having a single case in the country, he never-the-less made vaccination mandatory for all over-18s starting in July. Punishments for refusal were not specified 

Micronesia: A small South Pacific island nation, it mandated in July that its adult population had to be inoculated against Covid

New Caledonia: A French dependency also located in the South Pacific, it ordered its entire adult population to get vaccinated starting in September 

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA
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Regional Affairs Mariastella Gelmini declared that there ‘is no desire to divide the country’ but added ‘if the increase in infections and hospitalizations were to lead to new restrictions, it would not be conceivable to put the vaccinated and the unvaccinated on the same level.’

The Czech Republic has already followed Austria’s lead by banning unjabbed people from access to public events, bars and restaurants from next week.  

And Slovakia is also considering imposing a similar measure which would see unvaccinated people banned from non-essential stores, shopping malls, gyms, pools, hotels and mass public gatherings for at least three weeks after recording 8,342 daily cases.   

Earlier this week, Belgium made facemasks compulsory and introduced working from home instructions.  

Austria reported 15,145 cases on Thursday, a new one-day record for the pandemic and well above the previous record of 9,586 that was logged a year ago.

The hardest-hit region has been Upper Austria, where the governor today called for restrictions on the un-jabbed to be scrapped – but only so that a full nationwide lockdown can be imposed instead.

In Belgium, all people in indoor venues such as cafes and restaurants will need to wear a mask unless seated and the rule will apply to those aged 10 or older. The previous age threshold was 12. 

Nightclubs may have to test their guests if they want to let them dance mask-free. People wanting to eat in a restaurant or go to the theatre already must present a COVID pass, showing vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery. 

Most Belgians will also have to work from home four days a week until mid-December, and for three days after that.

Belgium has one of the highest cases per capita rates in the European Union, behind only the Baltic and former Yugoslav nations and Austria, at around one per hundred people over the past 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 

‘The alarm signals are all red,’ prime minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference. ‘We had all hoped to have a winter without coronavirus, but Belgium is not an island.’

The new restrictions are still milder than the lockdown imposed on the unvaccinated in Austria and the shortening of bar and restaurant opening hours in the Netherlands.

De Croo said Belgium planned to give booster jabs, currently limited mostly to the elderly, to the wider population.

Belgium’s infections spike has been sharpest in the northern region Flanders, where vaccination rates are higher, prompting eased restrictions in October.

The warning comes as a hospital in Bavaria’s Freising last week made the unprecedented decision to transfer a Covid-19 patient to northern Italy because it ‘had no more capacity to receive them, and the surrounding hospitals were also full.’ 

A fourth ferocious wave has sent infections to record highs in Europe’s biggest economy, putting hospitals also hit by the double whammy of a shortfall of personnel under immense strain.

European stocks retreated from record highs today, while government bond yields, oil prices and the euro tumbled as the spectre of a fresh COVID-linked lockdown in Germany and other parts of Europe cast a fresh shadow over the global economy.

As cases rises again across Europe, a number of governments have started to reimpose limits on activity, ranging from Austria’s full lockdown, to a partial lockdown in the Netherlands, to restrictions on the unvaccinated in parts of Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Protesters gather in front of the Austrian embassy in France overnight to protest the government’s lockdown of the unvaccinated, even before the chancellor announced that jabs will become mandatory

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Flag-waving protesters gather outside the Austrian embassy in Paris overnight, demonstrating against the lockdown of unvaccinated people in the country

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Florian Philippot, leader of French nationalist party ‘Les Patriotes’, and his supporters demonstrate in front of the Austrian embassy in Paris

Hungary reported 11,289 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, its highest daily tally, and will make booster shots mandatory for all healthcare workers and require mask wearing in most indoor places from Saturday.

While the new measures across Europe are not seen hitting the economy as much as the all-out lockdowns of last year, analysts say they could weigh on the recovery in the last quarter of the year, especially if they hit the retail and hospitality sectors.

A full lockdown in Germany would be more serious, however.

‘A total lockdown for Germany would be extremely bad news for the economic recovery,’ said Ludovic Colin, a senior portfolio manager at Swiss asset manager Vontobel.

‘It’s exactly what we saw in July, August of this year in parts of the world where the delta (variant) was big, it (COVID-19) came back and it slows down the recovery again,’ he added. 

The pressure on intensive care units in Germany had not yet reached its peak, Spahn said, urging people to reduce contacts to help break the wave.

‘How Christmas will turn out, I dare not say. I can only say it’s up to us,’ he added.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday Germany will limit large parts of public life in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of COVID-19 patients to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness.

Merkel said on Thursday the federal government would consider a request from regions for legislation allowing them to require that care and hospital workers be vaccinated.

Saxony, the region hardest hit by Germany’s fourth wave, is considering shutting theatres, concert halls and soccer stadiums, Bild newspaper reported. The eastern state has Germany’s lowest vaccination rate.

New daily infections have risen 14-fold in the past month in Saxony, a stronghold of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which harbours many vaccine sceptics and anti-lockdown protesters.

Much of the Austrian public is also sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament. It is planning a protest against coronavirus restrictions on Saturday.

Anti-lockdown Sweden now has Western Europe’s LOWEST Covid infection rate despite wave rolling across the continent

Sweden now has the lowest Covid infection rate in western Europe — after double-vaccinated nationals were told they don’t have to test for the virus even if they get symptoms.

The Scandinavian nation — which was subject to international scrutiny last year when it refused to lockdown — is currently recording 85.4 cases per million people, according to Oxford University research site Our World in Data.

By comparison, the rate is nearly 1,400 per million in Europe’s current Covid capital Austria, which today announced it is going back into a full lockdown from Monday.

Sweden’s infection rate is far lower than other Western European countries like the Netherlands (1,048.7), Britain (581), Germany (536), and France (201).

And for the first time in the pandemic, Sweden is recording fewer cases per population size than its Scandinavian neighbours Denmark (655), Norway (351) and Finland (150).

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

The above graph shows the Covid infection rate per million people for western European countries from November last year. It reveals that Sweden currently has the lowest infection rate in the region

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

The above graph shows the proportion of the population that has received two doses of the Covid vaccine by nation. It reveals that Sweden is in the bottom half of countries for vaccine uptake, but ahead of nations including the UK and Germany

What Covid restrictions are in place in Sweden? 

The country — which dodged a lockdown unlike most other nations — also has next to no Covid restrictions in place.

It dropped its final measures recommending people to work from home where possible on September 29.

And advice for people to wear face masks on public transport was abandoned on July. Unlike in other countries the coverings were never compulsory.

On November 11 Swedish health authorities went even further telling double-vaccinated people they no longer needed to swab themselves for the virus.

But this move has now been reversed after critics said it left the country in a dangerous position just before winter. 

Some travel restrictions are still in place for people coming to the country from non-EU nations and Britain.

All arrivals are required to show a certificate they have been double-vaccinated.

When this is not possible they are asked to show a negative Covid test result from to come to the country from non-EU countries.

All arrivals are also required to prove they up to 48 hours before they travelled. 

Sweden will impose further restrictions from December 1 requiring everyone attending events of more than 100 people to show proof they are double-vaccinated.

Officials have warned more Covid restrictions may be needed this winter. 

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But critics say Sweden has been left ‘in the dark’ over the true extent of its coronavirus wave because the double-vaccinated, equivalent to almost seven in ten people, are not being routinely swabbed.

Last week, Sweden broke ranks with its European neighbours once again and told Swedes they did not have to get tested if they were fully jabbed, even if they had symptoms. Covid swabbing rates plunged 35 per cent last week, compared to a month earlier.

But this week the policy was reversed in response to rising cases on the continent. A fresh wave of Delta is rolling across the continent and putting pressure on hospitals once again, which has forced most in the EU to bring back some form of curbs.

Latest figures show Sweden is only carrying out 1.26 tests per 1,000 people, which is also the lowest number in western Europe.

Boris Johnson warned this week that Europe’s wave could spill onto Britain’s shores, but virologists say that the continent is behind the UK which saw a surge in cases over the summer.

Sweden paused free Covid tests for the vaccinated last week but will restart the scheme from November 22. 

At the time, its health agency argued the resources for testing could be better used elsewhere and that there was no need to test the fully vaccinated because they have a low risk of getting sick and are less likely to spread the disease. 

It is currently carrying out just 1.26 tests per 1,000 people, the lowest number in western Europe. For comparison, the UK is carrying out 12 times more swabs, Austria 47 times more, and France almost four times more.

Swedes have complained that Covid tests are inconvenient because — unlike in Britain — they require people to submit their bank ID and speak to clinicians who decide whether they should be swabbed.

The Scandinavian nation became an international outlier last year when it defied scientific advice and refused to follow the rest of the world in shutting down society to curb the virus’ spread. 

Although Sweden chose not to lock down completely early in the pandemic, it did introduce stricter legally-binding curbs last winter as cases and deaths rose.

Sweden dropped its final Covid curbs on September 29, when it cancelled its recommendation to work from home.

Unlike other European countries it has never made face masks compulsory or enforced compulsory lockdowns. 

But from December 1 the country is ramping up Covid restrictions to require everyone attending events of more than 100 people to confirm they are double-vaccinated. 

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

, Europe&#8217;s Covid crisis: Austria makes vaccines mandatory as opposition blasts &#8216;dictatorship&#8217;, The Today News USA

Although Sweden chose not to lock down completely early in the pandemic, it did introduce stricter legally-binding curbs last winter as cases and deaths rose. A couple hug and laugh as they have lunch in a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden

Anders Tegnell — Sweden’s chief epidemiologist and the architect of its no lockdown approach — has warned more restrictions may be needed to curb the spread of the virus.

He said yesterday: ‘If we have the continued low pressure from the virus which we have just now, then maybe proof of vaccination [for larger public gatherings] would be enough.

‘But experiences from many other European countries — the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria — suggest that if the spread of the virus increases, then this is not enough.’

Sweden is middle of the road when it comes to vaccine uptake in western Europe. Some 68.7 per cent of the entire population have had both doses of the virus.

This is slightly above the UK (67.5 per cent double-jabbed) but below other nations including Spain (80.2 per cent) and the Netherlands (73.5 per cent). In Austria vaccine uptake is 63.9 per cent.

Sweden is currently offering booster shots to all over-65s from six months after their second dose, and eventually plans to expand the roll out to all over-16s. It has also recently started offering jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds, although reports suggest uptake has been low.

For comparison, Britain is currently offering booster doses to all over-40s and first jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds. There have been suggestions this roll out could be expanded further.

Sweden has cut a different path to other European countries through out the pandemic, choosing to rely on citizens to make the right choices during the first wave instead of locking down.

Last winter it imposed more restrictions bringing more in line with the rest of Europe including limiting the number of people who could attend outdoor concerts, cinemas and markets, and curtailing opening hours for bars.