Austria extends COVID-19 lockdown by 10 days

FILE PHOTO: People walk in a shopping street as the Austrian government imposed fourth national coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Vienna, Austria, November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

VIENNA (Reuters) - An Austrian parliamentary committee on Tuesday, as widely expected, approved a decree extending the country's COVID-19 lockdown by 10 days, bringing its total duration to 20 days, which the government has said is the longest it will last.

Faced with surging daily coronavirus infections, the conservative-led government introduced the lockdown on Monday of last week, the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a lockdown this autumn.

Roughly 67% of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, one of 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.

New daily infections have fallen below 9,000 from a peak above 15,000 the week before the lockdown began. Tuesday's figure of 8,186 is still only slightly below the previous peak of 9,586 set in November of last year, when vaccines were not available and a national lockdown was imposed.

Austria's total confirmed death toll from COVID-19 is 12,492.

The main committee of Austria's lower house of parliament, which is responsible for vetting certain major government decisions, approved the lockdown extension through Dec. 11, parliament said in a statement.

The conservative People's Party and the left-wing Greens, which together form Austria's governing coalition, backed the extension in the committee, as did the opposition Social Democrats, the statement said.

Under the lockdown restaurants, cafes, bars, theatres, museums and non-essential shops have closed their doors. Restaurants can, however, serve take-away meals and non-essential shops can make "click and collect" sales.

People can only leave their homes for a limited number of reasons, such as going to work or shopping for essentials. Being outdoors for "physical and mental recovery", like going for a walk, is also allowed, with no limit on time or distance.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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