Saturday Nov 20, 2021
VIENNA: Thousands of people, many of them far-right supporters, protested in Vienna on Saturday 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. 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".
Roughly 66% of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 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.
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 as of Monday and make it compulsory to get vaccinated as of February 1.
The Freedom Party (FPO) had already been planning a show of force in Vienna on Saturday when Friday's announcement fired up its base and prompted FPO leader Herbert Kickl to respond that "As of today, Austria is a dictatorship".
Although Kickl could not attend because he has caught COVID-19, thousands of people answered calls by the FPO and other vaccine-critical groups to protest across the city.
"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, though the mood was festive.