Thousands of people, many of them far-right supporters, have protested in Vienna against coronavirus restrictions a day after Austria’s government announced a new lockdown and said vaccines would be made compulsory next year.
Whistling, clapping, blowing horns and banging drums, crowds streamed into Heroes’ Square in front of the Hofburg, the former imperial palace in central Vienna, on Saturday. Many protesters waved Austrian and other flags and carried signs with slogans such as “no to vaccination”, “enough is enough” or “down with the fascist dictatorship”.
Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom party (FPÖ), the third-biggest in parliament.
With daily infections still setting records even after a lockdown was imposed on the unvaccinated this week, the government said on Friday it would send Austria back into lockdown from Monday and make it compulsory to get vaccinated from 1 February.
The FPÖ had already been planning a show of force in Vienna on Saturday when Friday’s announcement fired up its base and prompted FPÖ leader Herbert Kickl to respond that “as of today, Austria is a dictatorship”.
Kickl, who announced earlier this week that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to stay in isolation at home, made an appearance via video. He denounced what he called “totalitarian” measures from a government “that believes it should think and decide for us”.
“We are not in favour of our government’s measures,” said one protester who was part of a group with tin foil on their heads and toilet brushes in their hands. Like most protesters who spoke to the media, they declined to give their names.
Vaccinations in Austria have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in western Europe and hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity. Average daily deaths have tripled in recent weeks.