Former Interior Minister Karl Nehammer was sworn in Monday, Dec. 6, as the new chancellor of Austria. He replaced Alexander Schallenberg, who announced a vaccine mandate for residents 14 years old and up just two weeks ago.

But Nehammer’s installment as the new chancellor does not represent a relief from the ruling government’s extreme Wuhan coronavirus COVID-19 mandates. Austrians may be seeing more draconian measures soon.

As interior minister, he was uncompromising in his stance on the unvaccinated and ordered them into lockdown last month, saying that “every person who lives in Austria must be aware that they can be checked by the police.”

Under his leadership, almost 5,000 police officers began enforcing compliance with COVID restrictions by early November, and all encounters involved the inspection of vaccination status.

Businesses like restaurants, hair salons and others that accept customers older than 12 without proof of vaccination or recent recovery from the disease can face up to 30,000 euros ($33,970) in fines.

Nehammer also said that the freedom sought by tens of thousands of Austrians who demonstrated against the mandates in recent weeks can only be gained through vaccination. He added that those refusing to be vaccinated should be blamed for an attack on the health system, and claimed that vaccinations are the ticket out of the pandemic. 

The lockdown barred people from leaving their houses with few exceptions, such as going to work, shopping for essentials and exercising. The current lockdown is set to end next week for vaccinated people. But lawmakers may seek to extend it again.

Planned vacation requirements, which are strictest in the West, are expected to take place by February and may include the need for booster shots. Individual provinces can also impose tighter restrictions.

Opposition leader: Austria is now a dictatorship

Austria already began implementing the lockdown for those who are unvaccinated or recently recovered, but infections continue to rise. On Thursday, Dec. 2, more than 15,000 new cases were recorded in the country of nearly nine million people.

Demand for vaccinations has increased in recent days, with 66 percent of the population already fully jabbed. This is only slightly below the European Union average of over 67 percent.

The opposition party, however, said that the government should have acted sooner to prevent another lockdown. “Austria would have spared itself all of this if decisive action had been taken in summer and early autumn,” said Beate Meinl-Reisinger, the NEOs chief.

“Austria is now a dictatorship,” said Herbert Kickl, head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

In November, Vienna became the first city in the EU to start inoculation for children between the ages of five and 11.

Meanwhile, other European countries are reintroducing other ways of curbing the spread of the virus. Hungary, for instance, is making citizens wear masks indoors again. France is shutting down nightclubs for four weeks while the uncertainty of the omicron variant has prompted curbs in travel.

Poland moved to online schooling over the extended holiday period while imposing mandated vaccinations for teachers and healthcare workers.

But Austria still has one of the strictest measures in Europe as vaccinations are made mandatory in the country.

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