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Austria Imposes Full Lockdown and Mandatory Vaccines As Covid-19 Cases Surge

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Austria announced on Friday that it will impose a lockdown for all and make vaccinations mandatory, becoming the first EU country to take such stringent measures as coronavirus cases spiral.

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Other European countries are also tightening restrictions as Covid-19 cases surge across the continent, but so far none have reimposed full lockdowns and only the Vatican has mandated vaccinations for all.

The lockdown will start on Monday, while vaccination against Covid-19 in the Alpine nation will become mandatory from February 1 next year, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said.

The confinement will initially last 20 days with an evaluation after 10 days, he said.

“Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,” Schallenberg told a press conference in the western Tyrol state, where he met regional government heads.

“Sustainably increasing the vaccination rate is the only way to get out of this vicious circle,” he said.

He also blamed those refusing to be vaccinated for an “attack on the health system”, and said vaccinations were the “exit ticket” out of the pandemic.

The lockdown means people are no longer allowed to leave their houses with few exceptions such going to work, shopping for essentials and exercising.

Schools will remain open though parents have been asked to keep their children at home if possible. Teleworking is also recommended.

‘Dictatorship’

At the beginning of the week, Austria already began a lockdown for those not vaccinated or recently cured, becoming the first EU country to do so.

But infections have continued to rise. On Thursday, a new record of more than 15,000 new cases were recorded in the Alpine EU member of nearly nine million people.

Demand for vaccinations has increased in recent days, and 66 percent of the population are now fully jabbed, slightly below the EU average of more than 67 percent.

The opposition party NEOs said the government should have acted sooner to avoid intensive care units from struggling and thus prevent another lockdown — the fourth in the country since the pandemic hit Europe last year.

“Austria would have spared itself all of this if decisive action had been taken in summer and early autumn,” NEOs chief Beate Meinl-Reisinger said.

“Austria is now a dictatorship!” said Herbert Kickl, the head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which was a junior partner in the country’s last government.

On Sunday, hundreds demonstrated against the lockdown for the unvaccinated. The FPOe is planning a bigger rally on Saturday though Kickl will miss it as he has contracted the virus.

On Monday, Vienna city authorities also became the first in the EU to start inoculating children between the ages of five and 11.

They said they would increase the offer in line with high demand even though the European Medicines Agency has not yet approved any of the coronavirus vaccines for the five-to-11 age bracket.

Other European countries are also re-introducing curbs to fight the virus’ spread.

Hungary, which neighbours Austria, is making wearing masks indoors again compulsory from Saturday, the government said Thursday.

(AFP)

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Original Post: france24.com

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World at ‘inflection Point’ Warns Biden, Raising Alarm at Democracy Summit

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Democracy faces “sustained and alarming challenges” worldwide, US President Joe Biden said Thursday at the opening of a virtual summit on democracy with representatives from some 100 countries.

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Biden said trends were “largely pointing in the wrong direction” and that democracy needed “champions.”

“We stand at an inflection point,” he said. “Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked?”

The two-day event, held by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, was billed by the White House as US leadership in an existential struggle between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorships.

“Make no mistake, we’re at a moment of democratic reckoning,” said Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. “Countries in virtually every region of the world have experienced degrees of democratic backsliding.”

The summit featured opening remarks from Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with representatives from some 100 governments, as well as NGOs, private businesses, philanthropical organisations and legislatures attending.

China, Russia not invited

The conference is a test of Biden’s assertion, made in his first foreign policy address in February, that he would return the US to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

Both countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of America’s democracy. Biden is struggling to pass his agenda through a polarised Congress following the turbulent and disruptive Trump presidency.

Amid rising US-China tensions, the Biden administration’s decision to invite Taiwan has irked Beijing.

China considers Taiwan, a democratically ruled island, part of its territory.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the invitation of Taiwan showed the US was only using democracy as “cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests.”

‘Lip service’

Washington used the run-up to the summit to announce sanctions against officials in Iran, Syria and Uganda it accuses of oppressing their populations, and against people it accuses of being tied to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.

US officials hope to win support during the meetings for global initiatives, such as use of technology to enhance privacy or circumvent censorship, and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies before an in-person summit planned for late 2022.

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at non-profit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and to spur coordination between democratic governments.

“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are implemented in the year ahead,” Boyajian said.

Zeya at the State Department said civil society would help hold the countries, including the United States, accountable. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would disinvite leaders who did not fulfill their pledges.

Human Rights Watch’s Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the invitation to the 2022 summit dependent on delivering on commitments was the only way to get nations to step up.

Otherwise, Holewinski said, some “will only pay lip service to human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”

“They shouldn’t get invited back,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Original Source: france24.com

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Top US Scientist Fauci: Omicron ‘almost Certainly Not More Severe’ Than Delta Variant

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Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.Read More

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Suspected Member of Khashoggi Hit Squad Arrested at Paris Airport

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French police Tuesday arrested at Paris’s main airport a suspected member of the team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, sources said.Read More

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