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Austrian Coronavirus Cases Surge as Lockdown for Vaccine Holdouts Looms

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s daily new coronavirus infections surged on Thursday towards the record set a year ago, making a lockdown for the unvaccinated ever more likely as the government struggles to convince holdouts to get their shot.

Roughly 64% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That is in line with the European Union average but it is also among the lowest rates in western Europe. Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament.

The number of new daily infections rose to 8,594 on Thursday, data from the interior and health ministries showed. That was a 32% increase from Wednesday and approaching the record of more than 9,000 set in November of last year, when the second of three nationwide lockdowns was ordered.

Having taken a hands-off approach to restrictions last summer, the conservative-led government has since outlined a plan under which the unvaccinated population will be placed under lockdown, with restrictions on their daily movements, once 600 intensive-care beds are filled with COVID-19 patients.

Under that incremental plan the unvaccinated, not including those who have recovered from a coronavirus infection, will be barred from cafes and restaurants once 500 intensive-care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients. The number of those beds currently in use is 352 and rising by more than 10 a day.

Of Austria’s nine provinces, Salzburg and Upper Austria accounted for 45% of Thursday’s new cases. Those two conservative-led provinces have by far the most infections relative to population. Upper Austria, a Freedom Party stronghold, has Austria’s lowest vaccination rate.

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