austria

Anti-Lockdown Protests Erupt in York, Austria and the Netherlands

Thousands of anti-lockdown protestors have descended on the streets of York, Austria and the Netherlands as new Covid restrictions are imposed across Europe in response to the (seemingly harmless) Omicron variant. MailOnline has more.

No one has died with the new super mutant Omicron Covid variant despite the strain being spotted in 38 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed.

But world leaders have been implementing extra measures including large fines to encourage populations to get fully vaccinated.

In Austria, unvaccinated people who breach lockdown rules – which have been extended to December 11th – face fines of up to €500. Anyone refusing to comply with vaccination status checks could be fined up to €1,450.

In Vienna, thousands protested on Saturday against restrictions on public life designed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in York for a so-called ‘freedom protest’ and took part in musical performances in front of York Minster.

Meanwhile, several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to criticise new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.

Protesters walked through the streets carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Government has announced that all travellers to Britain will need to take a lateral flow or PCR Covid test 48 hours before departure from Tuesday. This is in spite of Grant Shapps ruling out pre-departure PCR tests yesterday. MailOnline has more.

Postcard From Austria

We’re publishing a postcard from Austria today by former academic Mark Foord describing the full horror of the Austrian Government’s recent shift to untrammelled authoritarianism. Here’s an extract:

A former colleague from Bonn insisted that “the Balkans begin in Austria”. She was hinting that for Germans, there was a slight whiff of the disorderly east about the place – too many rakish non-conformists and shady deals. I felt at home in that Austria. However, there is another Austria – a neuralgic, curtain twitching, obsessively orderly, dyspeptic place, obsequious and worshipping of authority.

Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve observed both Austrias: the Austria of stubborn transgression with the barn parties, impromptu gatherings around a crate of beer and a refusal not to enjoy life; and the other Austria of pandemic narks, tipping off the police about a game of farmyard horseshoes, or youths in the park doing what youths do. Beyond the caricatures, the situation is getting sinister. For months, the population have been saturated with angst filled news broadcasts claiming that the Austrian health system (one of the best resourced in the world) was on the verge of collapse. The press called for deeper and more stringent measures against the unvaccinated. A ‘new enemy within’ that might divert attention from the manifold failings of the Austrian political establishment to better prepare the health and social care system for winter.

The pandemic was reframed (against all evidence) as a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’. How that phrase flew. In the space of a few weeks there was a palpable mood change. Newspaper comment sections were stuffed with hateful diatribes about the unvaccinated; TV programmes made little attempt to understand the reasons why many people were reluctant to consider the new novel vaccines, despite their being evidence that many of the unvaccinated would be willing to accept one of the conventional vaccines in development (Novavax) or those already in use across the world (Sinovac). There was little objective coverage of emerging vaccine breakthroughs which might lead us to question whether vaccines remain the only way out of the pandemic. In this simple public morality tale, the unvaccinated were portrayed as the only barrier to taming the pandemic. Pressure grew for compulsory vaccination and on November 19th the Chancellor announced that Austria would become the first European state to introduce compulsory vaccinations, coming into force on February 1st 2022.

Worth reading in full.

The Religious Faith of European leaders in Vaccines Will End in the Imprisonment of the Unvaccinated

I’ve written a comment piece for Mail+ about the failure of vaccine passports and other restrictions on the unvaccinated to avert a Winter Covid crisis in Europe. The logic of the policy seems to be based on a wildly inflated estimate of the effectiveness of the vaccines – but instead of abandoning it when it clearly isn’t working, European governments just keep doubling down. Here is an extract:

In spite of the overwhelming evidence that vaccine passports are ineffective, a majority of the public still want the Government to bring them in. In a poll published yesterday, 58% of English adults said they’d support banning people from bars, restaurants and other public venues if they can’t produce evidence they’ve been double-jabbed or recently tested negative.

The reason for this may be because most people still think of the Covid vaccines as being more effective than they really are. When they were first rolled out, we were assured they offered almost complete protection against the virus.

“You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations,” said Joe Biden.

“Vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick,” said Dr Rochelle Walensky, a Director of the Centres for Disease Control.

“When people are vaccinated, they can feel safe that they are not going to get infected,” said Dr Anthony Fauci.

We now know that isn’t true. Vaccinated people can still catch COVID-19 and pass it on. The evidence suggests they are less likely to become severely ill or die for the disease, but even those benefits wear off over time, which is why the Government is urging people to get the booster.

If vaccinated people can transmit the virus, what is the point of banning the unvaccinated from bars, restaurants and other public places? You might as well ban people with ginger hair for all the good it will do.

Worth reading in full.

Austria Makes Covid Vaccines Mandatory

Austria has become the first country in Europe to make the Covid vaccine compulsory. From February 1st, all adults will be required to have the vaccine. Sky News has more.

The measure to make vaccination compulsory among the adult population will attract controversy, with Austria only the fourth country in the world to do so – after Indonesia, Micronesia and Turkmenistan.

[Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg] said: “Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many among us didn’t get vaccinated. The results are overcrowded intensive care units and enormous suffering.”

He said the government therefore took “a very difficult decision… that we will quickly introduce a nationwide vaccine mandate” from 1 February.

The nation had already introduced a series of strict measures along with Germany and Slovakia in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as a debate intensifies over whether vaccines alone are enough to tackle coronavirus.

Around 66% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Its infection rate is among the highest in the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people – and daily cases keep setting records.

The country of 8.9 million has reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily, while hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new Covid patients and deaths have also been rising again.

The national lockdown will initially last for 10 days, after which the effects will be assessed and the measures extended to a maximum of 20 days if cases have not gone down enough.

Two states in Austria – Salzburg and Upper Austria – had already triggered a range of restrictions, with the rules extended to apply to vaccinated people and a full lockdown from next week that would see schools shut and a curfew imposed.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: BBC News has more on this story.

Stop Press 2: Austria’s opposition leader – Herbert Kickl, leader of the right-wing populist FPO party – has said the country is now a dictatorship. MailOnline has more.

Austria Poised to Impose Full Lockdown

Shock! The lockdown of the unvaccinated made zero impact on rising case numbers in Austria so now the country is on the brink of imposing a full lockdown – not that that will make the slightest bit of difference either. The Telegraph has more.

Austria could become the first place in Europe to see full Covid lockdowns reintroduced since widespread vaccination campaigns were rolled out as the continent faces a wave of new restrictions amid a winter surge.

The country’s worst-hit provinces said they would adopt the measure for themselves since infections are still rising despite the current controversial lockdown for the unvaccinated.

Roughly 66% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people.

As winter approaches, cases have surged across Europe, prompting governments to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns. The Netherlands has imposed a partial lockdown that applies to all, but Austria has sought not to impose extra restrictions on the fully vaccinated.

Daily infections on Thursday reached a new record of 15,145. The biggest wave before this peaked at 9,586 a year ago, when Austria went into full lockdown. Hospitals in Austria are overloaded and there are unconfirmed reports of bodies being stored in the corridors.

Around Europe, nations are having to take action, including:

* The Netherlands could extend holidays over Christmas to slow a surge in cases among children.
* Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit record highs for the second straight day.
* Belgium has tightened its coronavirus restrictions in a last-ditch effort to avoid a full lockdown.

A German state has been forced to transfer coronavirus patients to Italy.

You can read more news updates on the Telegraph‘s site here.

Stop Press: MailOnline has more about the lockdowns being readied across Europe.

European Countries Bring Back Winter Lockdowns

Bad news for our continental cousins: lockdowns are returning to various European countries.

The first one to announce a winter lockdown is Holland, where bars, restaurants and non-essential shops will be ordered to close at 7pm for at least three weeks starting tomorrow. The Telegraph has more.

People will be urged to work from home as much as possible, and no audiences will be allowed at sporting events in the coming weeks. Schools, theatres and cinemas would remain open.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet will take a final decision later on Friday, and will announce the new measures during a televised press conference scheduled for 6pm GMT.

New coronavirus infections in the country of 17.5 million have increased rapidly after social distancing measures were dropped late September and hit a record of around 16,300 in 24 hours on Thursday.

The new wave of infections has put pressure on hospitals throughout the country, forcing them to scale back regular care again to treat Covid patients.

To contain the outbreak, the government’s pandemic advisory panel on Thursday recommended imposing a partial lockdown and to limit entrance to public places to people who have been fully vaccinated or have recently recovered from a coronavirus infection.

A new lockdown would mean a drastic turn in policy for the Dutch government, which until last month thought that a relatively high vaccination rate would mean it could further ease measures towards the end of the year.

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From Vienna

We’re publishing a new addition to our long-running series ‘Around the World in 80 Lockdowns’. This time it’s a “Postcard From Vienna” from our regular travel correspondent Russell David. Here is an extract:

It’s no surprise most people aren’t booking holidays at the moment. In the 10 days leading up to the flight I received five emails from Ryanair, four of which were identical, headed ESSENTIAL REMINDER FOR YOUR TRIP in bold, capital letters, red and underlined. A couple of lines down it said: “Failure to comply with local travel requirements may result in you being fined or denied boarding or entry into your destination.” That too was in bold and underlined. There was then reams of copy about the E.U. Digital Covid Travel Certificate, passenger locator forms, masks and tests, until it returned to its theme: “Failure to produce required forms/negative Covid test results may result in boarding/entry to your destination being denied and may also result in very expensive, on the spot fines.” By this point you’re thinking: “Christ, should I really have booked this holiday? Is it worth the pain and stress?”

It didn’t start too well. At the Ryanair departure gate at Stansted, already a whirlpool of anxiety and hassle thanks to the staff’s incessant cries of “are you double vaccinated?” and “your bag’s too big, you have to pay extra”, I was called forward, unmasked as ever, clutching my exemption letter from my GP, and came face-to-mask with, well, let’s call her Eva. She peered at my letter for a long time before drawing herself up.

“I’ve let you on this time,” she said with the imperiousness of the Empress of India, “but this is out of date”, and she pointed to “July 30th, 2021” on my letter.

Worth reading in full.

Postcard From Vienna

by Russell David

Why did I visit Austria? Why now? Here’s why: I’d been due to stay in Vienna (and Luxembourg) in 2020, having paid for non-refundable hotel rooms but had been forced to cancel (twice); both hotels said I could use the booking until the end of 2021. Little did I realise then that it wouldn’t be until 2021 was nearly over that a trip would be feasible. So I embarked on this three-night break because I sort of had to, and a few tweaks to the testing requirements meant that this was unlikely to be as much of an ordeal as my trip to Slovenia in September was.

It’s no surprise most people aren’t booking holidays at the moment. In the 10 days leading up to the flight I received five emails from Ryanair, four of which were identical, headed ESSENTIAL REMINDER FOR YOUR TRIP in bold, capital letters, red and underlined. A couple of lines down it said: “Failure to comply with local travel requirements may result in you being fined or denied boarding or entry into your destination.” That too was in bold and underlined. There was then reams of copy about the E.U. Digital Covid Travel Certificate, passenger locator forms, masks and tests, until it returned to its theme: “Failure to produce required forms/negative Covid test results may result in boarding/entry to your destination being denied and may also result in very expensive, on the spot fines.” By this point you’re thinking: “Christ, should I really have booked this holiday? Is it worth the pain and stress?”

It didn’t start too well. At the Ryanair departure gate at Stansted, already a whirlpool of anxiety and hassle thanks to the staff’s incessant cries of “are you double vaccinated?” and “your bag’s too big, you have to pay extra”, I was called forward, unmasked as ever, clutching my exemption letter from my GP, and came face-to-mask with, well, let’s call her Eva. She peered at my letter for a long time before drawing herself up.

“I’ve let you on this time,” she said with the imperiousness of the Empress of India, “but this is out of date”, and she pointed to “July 30th, 2021” on my letter.

I was rocked back on my heels. Why on earth would the date matter? I have the exemption largely because I can’t breathe properly in a mask because of a lung condition I had 20 years ago and will have for the rest of my life (and I also don’t like being a subservient drone who blindly accepts politically driven dubious science). I begged to disagree, and I also pointed out that these GP missives are £25 a pop.

“Yes, I realise that,” Eva said in a tone that suggested I’d just told her the planet we were standing on was called Earth, and then her body language said “Next” and she looked for a new victim.

“You’re wrong,” I couldn’t help grumbling as I walked away.

“I’m not,” she called after me.

“You are!” I said a little loudly.

Standing in a very non-socially distanced queue I checked on the web on my phone and I found this on Ryanair’s mask exemption policy:

If you have an exemption from wearing a mask, you must bring a signed doctor’s letter or a medical certificate (either in a printed or digital format). The certificate must state that you’re exempt from wearing a face mask but does not need to specify a medical reason for the exemption.

So no mention of a date required. Then I had the joy of meeting Eva again 10 minutes later as I went to board the plane, so I gently (no really, I was very nice) told her what I had just read. Apology? She should coco. Instead, she doubled down.

“This isn’t even from a GP or hospital,” she spat, clearly not being able to understand that the Heart of Bath Medical Practice is a GP practice and that it was signed by a doctor, with the names of five other doctors at the bottom of the letter.

“You’re wrong about that, too,” I snapped, my previously genial manner deserting me. “This is appalling. I’m reporting you.”

“You do that,” she sneered with unrepentant glee.

“Oh, I will,” I intoned as I joined yet another cattle queue to get on the plane. When every scald, every fishwife, every fishhusband, has been turbocharged by 20 months of state-sanctioned tyranny this is what you get. Anyway, the report’s in!

The flight itself was fine, despite the pressure pill she’d popped me slowly dissolving in my stomach as we crossed Europe. Disembarking in Vienna, though, my day got worse again.

At passport control, my naked face was once more proclaimed indecent as I was sent to one side to show my exemption letter to the meanest, scariest looking man I have seen in many a year. He was wearing what looked like army fatigues, had a shaved head and of course an industrial-strength mask (definitely with a scowl behind it). Some bloke in front of me was already getting big hassle over his NHS Covid certification. When my turn came, I nervously pushed my little letter forward.

He looked at it with as much disgust as if I had just expectorated a globule of bright green mucus into the palm of his hand. And then, of the document that been acceptable for easyJet and Slovenia, he snorted – and I’ll never forget this – “This is nothing!” He indicated that the letter didn’t provide enough details of my condition and didn’t have enough passport-type data on it.

I immediately reasoned that it would be unwise to adopt the airport tactics of Sexy Beast’s Don Logan. I also decided that to quip “Now I know why this country was the birthplace of Hitler!” would be unwise. I’m smart like that.

I meekly acquiesced and pulled my mask out of my jacket pocket and put it on. Being able to breathe properly and strong principles be damned when a bellicose airport skinhead stands before you. He said something I didn’t fully catch (something about a 250 Euros fine I think), so instinctively I pulled down my mask to say “Pardon?”

“Put the mask up!!!” he barked.

In retrospect, I’m surprised he allowed me to get away with my blue cloth mask, as FFP2 masks are now required everywhere in Vienna, (well, theatre is very popular here). I eventually had to buy one to enter the splendid Sigmund Freud Museum a couple of days later. They’re similar to cloth masks except even more difficult to breathe through and they rob you of perhaps another one-seventh of your humanity. Because you can’t breathe very well in them, you take bigger breaths in and out; you feel the breath jettisoning up past the bridge of your nose to your forehead, gently tickling your eyebrows. Perhaps it might ruffle your hair…

Essentially an admittance of the uselessness of cloth masks, FFP2 masks are compulsory for the unvaccinated and recommended for the vaccinated in shops and on public transport; if you break the rules it’s possible you could go to prison for three weeks. And you’d see fewer masks at a Johann Strauss masked ball than you would in modern-day Vienna. You almost expect to see dogs wearing them. Thankfully, and surprisingly, my hotel – the fabulous 25 Hours Hotel – didn’t require them for guests, but it did insist upon proof of vaccination or an antibody certificate or a PCR test. “They love their bureaucracy here,” said the doorman to the hotel’s rooftop bar as my papers were once again perused. Nice chap though, originally from Hampshire. Sadly the hotel’s spa wouldn’t open until two days after I left, because they’d only just got the green light from the Government, a receptionist told me. Screwy old thing, ‘the Science’.

Near my hotel there was a theatre with a series of talks titled The New Normal (a phrase uttered by Dominic Raab as early as April 2020, curiously enough). Surprising I know, but I didn’t attend: the Beethoven Museum in the leafy outskirts of the city was more appealing, although having my kneecaps removed without anaesthetic would be too.

Regarding masks, it is remarkable that despite an avalanche of evidence pointing to their very limited efficacy, especially outdoors, they are ubiquitous. I think the truth about masks and this virus will never come out – can never come out, because scores of governments have made their citizens wear them for almost two years now.

I understand how masks make one feel part of the team and like a good citizen, and being good feels good. The world can feel less threatening when you have a fabric cover over your face. I get that. But the psychological and social costs of this unprecedented behaviour on this scale for so long are unlikely to be small.

Interestingly enough there were very few masks on the tourist buses that I took around the city – we’d pull up beside a tram or bus full of disconsolate citizens gazing at us from their muzzled faces and I for one would feel jolly lucky and relatively free. Hooray for tourists!

The world has been gripped by extreme safetyism. As Jordan Peterson remarked on a recent podcast with John Anderson, if cars were invented now they’d probably make driving them illegal, such is the cost in human life. I hope Dr. Peterson would agree with me when I observe that because liberals tend to be higher in the trait of neuroticism – thus fearing disease more – and conservatives higher in orderliness, and with a lower disgust threshold – thus welcoming greater security and being more revolted by illness – it was a cinch to mask the world. Almost everyone, scared out of their wits by governments and the media, was on board.

Back to Vienna, which is a great, sophisticated city, make no mistake. Wandering around I didn’t notice any boarded-up shops that are now such a common sight in Britain. You have to prove you’re not a disease-riddled leper in many places, but not all – it keeps you on your toes. There’s a nauseating amount of traffic but the magnificent buildings are still beautifully clean: these monuments to the apogee of Western civilisation adorn the landscape. When it came to giving up their liberties, though, Austrians dispensed with them as fast as they did the schilling at the start of this century. Oh, Vienna! as Midge Ure once cried, presumably in anticipation of this state of affairs.

Waiting for my flight home at the departure gate, FFP2 masked up, natch, I heard an announcement from the next gate along for a Dublin flight: make sure you have your passenger locator forms, vaccination certificates and PCR test results to hand. PCR test results? My heart started thumping. What if – somehow – I’d misread the rules and I had needed to have done a test either before my holiday or during it? My palms sweated, my head ached. Thankfully it was a false alarm, and the first two things were enough. Just as well, as we had another Eva on departure gate duty.

Never in the field of human existence have so many people been given such a rotten time for the (perceived) benefit to so few. And when future historians look at the civil liberties grabs that ensued for a disease that has around a 0.3 infection fatality rate, whose average victim was 82.4 and had an average of 2.5 co-morbidities, they may be astonished. But imagine the freedoms we’d be robbed of if this was a disease with, say, a 0.5 infection fatality rate, whose average victim was 80.4 and had an average of just 1.3 co-morbidities.

And a Day Trip to Bratislava, Slovakia

I did what many tourists do and got a train from Vienna to Bratislava, about an hour’s journey. A la Schengen, there are no passport checks or anything and you’d never know you were passing into another country. And in terms of Covid-mania it’s pretty much the same as Austria: masks everywhere and vaccine passports to access most places, although I managed to visit a small museum and buy a ‘placka’ (potato pancake) from an outdoor food stall without getting asked for mine (which was not the case in Slovenia).

Bratislava is a canny little city with delightful remnants of the past like a castle and an old town – plus there’s an ‘erotic supermarket’! Down by the river there was a large open-air photography exhibition, much of which focused on the travails of the last couple of years, including grim shots of suffering patients and hassled doctors in grey-looking hospitals. There were also several shots of anti-lockdown protests in the city last October, which a caption informed us was orchestrated by “fascists, communists and football hooligans”. I wonder how correct that was.

I eventually climbed back up the hill to the train station and, looking into bus after bus of masked human beings, I couldn’t help but think it resembled some terrible footage of prisoners being carted off to some unspeakable detention centre for some undeclared crime, never to be seen again. Thankfully not this time. Then it was back to Vienna.

Find Russell David’s travel blog here.

Italy, Austria and Germany Could Be Added to “Green List” This Week

Reports suggest that more countries could be added to the Government’s “Green List” later this week, which would allow unvaccinated Brits to holiday abroad without needing to quarantine when back in the U.K. The MailOnline has the story.

Italy, Austria and Germany are among the potential destinations that appear to pose a low enough risk to be downgraded in a review due on Thursday.

The move could make life easier for Brits who are desperate to get away, but have yet to receive both doses. 

People who are double-jabbed are due to be exempted from having to self-isolate on return to “Amber List” countries from “Freedom Day” next Monday.

But they will have to prove they are fully vaccinated, and there fears of huge delays as the rules are eased. …

Meanwhile, Britons will still need to consider the restrictions that are being imposed by other countries – with many trying to stop the Delta – or Indian – variant being imported from the U.K. …

Experts have predicted that a dozen more countries could be added to the Green List – where vaccine status is not an issue for the restrictions in England – in a review on Thursday. 

Former BA strategist Robert Boyle told the Telegraph that Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Canada, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Taiwan now meet the criteria for the loosest controls.

That would bring the total on the Green List to 39, with any changes expected to take effect from next week. …

Under the new arrangements, travellers will still be required to fill out a passenger locator form with details of their home address.

They will also need to confirm they have booked a day two PCR coronavirus test. Border Force agents must insect [sic] the documents for passengers at passport control. However, airlines will be responsible for checking vaccination status.

Border officers have warned that the huge rise in bookings since the loosening was announced will mean long queues.

Before Covid, three-quarters of people who passed through the U.K.’s border did not require any documentation checks other than verifying that their identity matched their passport.

Lucy Moreton, Professional Officer for the ISU Immigration Union, representing frontline border staff, told the Times: “This decision will open up foreign travel to a large number of new travellers. But we are not set up to cope with that sort of demand. 

“There is no way that the border can maintain that level of checks as the number of travellers increase.

“We’ve got away with it so far because the number of travellers are so low. But even at this point we’re seeing queues of one to two hours. 

“From the number of bookings we’ve seen already, we’ll easily see three, four-hour queues when people start returning from their holidays.”

Worth reading in full.