Thousands protest against Austria’s nationwide Covid lockdown

Ahead of Austria's national lockdown on Monday, crowds gathered in the nation's capital on Saturday to protest against the new Covid restrictions and compulsory vaccination.

Demonstrators hold up placards reading 'Stop measures immediately' and 'Don't touch our children' during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party FPOe against the measures taken to curb the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, at Heldenplatz square in Vienna, Austria on November 20, 2021. - Austria will impose a lockdown for all and make vaccinations mandatory, Austria's Chancellor Schallenberg announced on November 19, making the country the first in the EU to take such stringent measures as coronavirus cases spiral. The Alpine nation plans to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory from February 1 next year, while the lockdown will start from Monday, November 22 and will be evaluated after 10 days.
Demonstrators hold up placards reading 'Stop measures immediately' and 'Don't touch our children' during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party FPOe Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP

Riots took place in the early afternoon in Vienna on Saturday, as protestors set off smoke bombs and threw bottles and cans at the police.

The authorities have already arrested ten people under the Prohibition Act, reported newspaper Kronen Zeitung.

In total, over 1,300 officers and some police dogs have been deployed, both from Vienna and the provinces, in response to those demonstrating against the nationwide lockdown due to come into force on Monday.

Some 40,000 people came out to protest in Austria.

Key points: How will Austria’s new national lockdown work?

The Austrian government on Friday announced that the country will go into its fourth lockdown and will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory, as leaders again pleaded with the public to get vaccinated.

Since the announcement, thousands gathered at a rally held by Austria’s far-right Freedom Party FPÖ, waving Austrian flags and signs that argued for an end to the measures. Several demonstrators were restrained by police officers.

“It’s not normal that the government deprives us of our rights,” said 42-year-old teacher Katarina Gierscher, who travelled for six hours to attend the rally.

Some protesters wore a yellow star reading the words “not vaccinated”, in a nod to the Star of David many Jews were forced to wear during the Nazi era.

Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer expressed his outrage, saying in a statement that it “insults the millions of victims of the Nazi dictatorship and their families”.

Some have shared videos of the protest on social media, describing the new restrictions and future compulsory vaccination as a ‘Corona dictatorship’, while claiming that people want their freedom.

At protests with more than 50 participants, everyone must wear an FFP2 mask, unless all participants have a 2G certificate.

Under the lockdown rules, people aged over 12 without proof of 2G (full vaccination or recovery, or a first vaccine dose plus a negative PCR test) may not leave their homes except for essential reasons such as work or buying food.

Many of the demonstrators were reportedly not wearing a mask, but officials have been making identity checks throughout the afternoon.

READ ALSO: ‘Unavoidable’: How Austria has reacted to the new nationwide lockdown

Citizens were warned of temporary traffic disruption and road closures, while people were advised there could be restrictions to the public transport system.

Meanwhile, other cities in Austria also held demonstrations. In Innsbruck, thousands gathered. 

Austria’s nationwide general lockdown will start on Monday and will be reviewed after the first ten days. It will last for “a maximum” of 20 days for vaccinated people. This means it will end on December 13th if no further changes are made.

However, the lockdown for unvaccinated people is set to continue after the end of the general lockdown if judged necessary.

Schools will remain open during the lockdown, although children are advised to stay home wherever possible.

Covid-19 in Austria: Follow the latest developments as they happen

Shops and restaurants will be forced to close, while working from home will be mandatory in any job where it is possible to do so. 

Other new rules include the mandatory wearing of FFP2 masks in all enclosed rooms. Anyone found breaking the rules will face fines.

Everyone in Austria will need to be vaccinated from February 1st onwards, the government has also announced.

The new measures were announced after Austria recorded another all-time high for new daily cases on Thursday, with 15,145 cases reported in 24 hours.

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EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

Following the suicide of an Austrian doctor who received threats from Covid-19 anti-vaccination activists, the government has now launched a new campaign to help victims of online abuse.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

The Austrian medical community was left in shock in July when Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, a local doctor in Seewalchen am Attersee in Upper Austria, took her own life following months of online abuse.

Kellermayr, 36, had been targeted by anti-vaccination activists and Covid-19 conspiracy theorists for her out-spoken support of vaccines, and the abuse even included death threats. 

Her death prompted candlelight vigils and demonstrations in Vienna and the tragic story was picked up by news outlets around the world.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

This led to calls for tighter laws against online bullying and the ability for perpetrators to be prosecuted in other EU countries – particularly as at least two of the people who are believed to have targeted Kellermayr are based in Germany, according to the Guardian.

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has even called for the creation of a special public prosecutor’s office to deal with “hate-on-the-net”, but this has been rejected by prosecutors and other political parties, as reported by ORF.

Instead, the Federal Justice Department has launched a new information campaign, website and hotline to help people dealing with online abuse.

FOR MEMBERS: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

What is in the new campaign?

Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) said they have launched the campaign to raise awareness about the issue and to inform victims about the support available.

Zadic said: “It is important to me that those affected know that they are not alone in this situation and that the judiciary supports them with free psychological and legal process support.”

“You don’t have to cope alone with the extraordinary burdens that criminal proceedings can entail, for example through confrontation with the perpetrators.”

READ ALSO: Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Part of the support package is the new website Hilfe bei Gewalt (Help with Violence), which details how to access help from the authorities, as well as secure free legal advice and representation from a lawyer.

The website states the service is for victims of bullying and/or hate online, defamation, stalking, terrorism, incitement, sexual violence and robbery.

The service is designed to be anonymous with options to contact the Justice Department by phone or via a chat box. The website also lists contact details for regional support services in all provinces across Austria. 

The free (kostenlos) hotline for Hilfe bei Gewalt is 0800 112 112.

Useful links

Hilfe bei Gewalt

Austrian Federal Justice Department