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Thousands of people demonstrate against upcoming lockdown in Vienna

VIENNA (AP) – Thousands of protesters gathered in Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the rapid rise in coronavirus infections in the country.

The far-right opposition Freedom Party was among those who called for the protest and pledged to fight the new restrictions.

Demonstrations against anti-virus measures were also expected in other European countries, including Switzerland, Croatia and Italy.

Dutch police opened fire on protesters on Friday evening and seven people were injured in riots that broke out in downtown Rotterdam around a protest against COVID-19 restrictions.

The Austrian lockdown will start early Monday and initially last 10 days and then be reassessed. At most, it will last 20 days. Most stores will close and cultural events will be canceled. People will only be able to leave their homes for certain specific reasons, such as shopping for groceries, going to the doctor, or exercising.

The Austrian government has also said that from February 1, the country will make vaccinations mandatory.

At the start of the march on Vienna’s Heldenplatz, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the massive square. About 1,300 police officers were on duty. They used loudspeakers to tell protesters that masks were mandatory, but most did not wear them.

Sing “resistance!” And blowing whistles, the demonstrators began to move slowly on the inner city ring road. Many waved Austrian flags and carried placards mocking heads of government like Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.

Some wore doctor’s gowns; others donned foil hats. Most of the signs focused on the newly announced vaccine mandate: “My body, my choice,” one read. “We defend our children! Another said.

Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who announced earlier this week that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had to remain in isolation at home, made a video appearance. He denounced what he called “totalitarian” measures by a government “which believes it has to think and decide for us”.

Vaccinations in Austria have peaked at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe, and hospitals in heavily affected states have warned their intensive care units are reaching capacity. The average number of daily deaths has tripled in recent weeks.

Not quite 66% of the 8.9 million Austrians are fully vaccinated, according to government figures.

Austrian Chancellor Schallenberg apologized to all those vaccinated on Friday evening, saying it was not fair that they were subjected to the new lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.

“I am sorry for taking this drastic step,” he told public broadcaster ORF.

In France, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Saturday condemned the incidents that occurred on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, one of the French overseas territories, where violent protests erupted this week against restrictions linked to the COVID-19. Darmanin said 29 people were arrested by police overnight. Authorities on Friday announced a decision to send 200 more police to the island and a nighttime curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be imposed until Tuesday.

Protesters set up roadblocks and set street equipment and cars on fire. They denounce the COVID-19 health pass which is mandatory to access restaurants and cafes, cultural places, sports arenas and long-distance trips. They are also protesting against compulsory vaccination for healthcare workers.

Pass shows people are fully vaccinated, had recent negative test evidence of recent recovery from COVID-19.



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