Austria has returned to a national lockdown as protests against new restrictions aimed at curbing coronavirus infections have spread across Europe
From midnight, the people of Austria have been asked return to working from home and non-essential shops have also been closed.
New Covid restrictions have sparked protests throughout mainland Europe. People have clashed with police in both the Netherlands and Belgium.
Infection rates have risen sharply on the continent, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) warnings.
On Saturday WHO regional director Dr Hans Kluge told the BBC that unless measures were tightened across Europe – such as on vaccines, wearing masks and with Covid passes for venues – half a million more deaths could be recorded by next spring.
Last week Austria became the first European country to make Covid vaccination a legal requirement, with the law due to take effect in February. Politicians in neighbouring Germany are debating similar measures as intensive care units there fill up and case numbers hit fresh records.
This comes after deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has said that the UK is now moving at “considerable pace” with its booster programme. The COVID booster vaccines rollout has been extended to all adults over the age of 40 from today, it has now been announced.
This is Austria’s fourth national lockdown since the pandemic began.
Authorities have ordered residents to stay home for all but essential reasons, including work, exercise and shopping for food.
Restaurants, bars, hairdressers, theatres and non-essential shops must all close their doors. These measures will continue until 12 December, although officials said they will be reassessed after 10 days.
Health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said the government had to “react now” on ORF TV on Sunday night.
“A lockdown, a relatively tough method, a sledgehammer, is the only option to reduce the numbers [of infections] here,” he reportedly told the broadcaster.
Tens of thousands of people protested in the capital Vienna ahead of the lockdown. Brandishing national flags and banners reading “Freedom”, protesters shouted “Resistance!” and booed the police.
Several European countries saw angry protests against tougher restrictions turn violent over the weekend.
In Belgium’s capital, Brussels, demonstrators clashed with police after tens of thousands of people marched through the city centre.
Protesters are mainly opposed to Covid passes that stop the unvaccinated from entering cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues.
The march started peacefully but some launched stones and fireworks at officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
This comes after data from NHS Digital suggests a substantial rise in the number of obese children in England during the pandemic. In 2019-20, 10% of children were classed as being obese at the start of primary school, but in 2020-21 the figure was at over 14%.
Across the border from Austria in the Netherlands, rioting took place for the third night in a row.
Local media report that police arrested 15 people in the southern city of Roosendaal where a primary school was set ablaze. An emergency order has also been imposed in the town of Enschede to keep people off the streets overnight.
On Saturday, people hurled fireworks at police and set fire to bicycles in The Hague. That followed what Rotterdam’s mayor called “an orgy of violence” on Friday, when officers opened fire after protesters threw rocks and fireworks and set police cars ablaze.
Four people thought to have been hit by police bullets remain in hospital, authorities said on Sunday.
The Netherlands is under a three-week nationwide partial lockdown, forcing restaurants to shut earlier and banning fans at sports events.