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Europe’s anti-lockdown fight

Europe’s anti-lockdown fight

This week, Austria brought in its fourth national lockdown and said Covid vaccines will become a legal requirement from early next year. It’s been met with large protests and threats of strike action. Will the UK follow a similar path?

Claudia williams, narrating:

Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker.

One story, everyday, to make sense of the world.

Today, resisting measures to combat Covid: why Europe is becoming less compliant.


“A full national coronavirus lockdown has come into force in Austria. It’s the first country in Europe to announce such a step as Covid cases surge…”

BBC News

Over the weekend, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Vienna in Austria to march against new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Austria has just introduced its fourth national lockdown.  It’s set to last until the 12th of December and some people are unhappy – so unhappy they’re trying to undermine support for government measures.

[Clip: protesters chanting]

They brandished national flags and banners with slogans like, “The Great Reset, a conspiracy theory!” and “Control your borders, not your people!”

And featuring prominently, one image: the face of the country’s far-right Freedom Party, Herbert Kickl.

He’s the university drop out and vaccine skeptic who’s the mastermind behind one of Europe’s most powerful populist parties, the FPO. 

And he’s played a large part in the protests.

[Clip: Herbert Kickl addressing protesters via video link]

That’s Herbert Kickl addressing a crowd at a rally in Vienna’s museum quarter. It’s by video link because ironically, he’s currently having to quarantine after testing positive for Covid. 

So, who are the protesters listening to Herbert Kickl?  And could we see something similar in the UK?  


Like much of Europe, Austria is seeing a sharp rise in Covid cases.

Hospital beds are filling up, forcing one state – Salzburg – to set up a committee to decide who should be treated in its intensive care units at its overwhelmed hospitals. 

Austria’s vaccination rate is part of the problem. Only 64 percent of the population is fully jabbed, putting it below the EU average. 

Initially, Austria’s new Chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, announced plans to enforce a lockdown for people who hadn’t been jabbed.

“And it was just a few days ago that Austria introduced a partial lockdown for those who are unvaccinated. This goes even further…”

BBC News

But this was quickly shot down as unworkable.

Now, Alexander Schallenberg has announced a full lockdown and from February, having a Covid vaccination will be a legal requirement.

It’s a measure few governments around the world have resorted to, and for Herbert Kickl, it’s simply “totalitarian”.

“government wants to force us to get vaccinated and if we do not get vaccinated we are not allowed to work, we’re not allowed to go anywhere…”

Alexander Schugal, activist

This is an Austrian activist called Alexander Schugal.

“…we are not allowed to do anything, and we have to pay $3,600 as a fine… obviously the state can ask me a few times to pay this fine… we don’t know the rules yet, we don’t know what will happen if we pay the fine afterwards when we’re still unvaccinated, what are they going to do?”

Andrew Schugal, activist

Rumours are now circulating that workers are calling for a strike – saying they’ll down tools until the government backtracks.  It’s worth noting, however, that despite the backlash, Austria’s daily vaccination rate has been rising sharply.  

So, is the picture in Austria being repeated in other European countries?


Austria isn’t the only country currently seeing protests. Pockets of unrest are beginning to spread across the continent.

“The Belgian capital Brussels has become the latest European city to see unrest over tightened Covid restrictions. Tens of thousands of people marched in protest and there were 40 arrests…” 

BBC News

And in the Netherlands, police fired warning shots after violent demonstrations broke out in Rotterdam.

“The demonstration soon turned violent as rioters set off fireworks and flares… and the rocks and missiles at police. A number of cars were torched…”

Channel 4 News

In London and in Paris, crowds of anti-lockdown protesters gathered outside Austrian embassies to show support.

The protesters are made up of a mix of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers and followers of Piers Corbyn, the left-wing physicist turned political activist. 

And there’s a clear sense that introducing new curbs elsewhere in Europe will not be popular. 

But here in the UK, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said there’s no need for the government to implement “Plan B”, only that people should get their booster jab when they can. 

And he’s rejected the idea of making vaccines compulsory too. 

For the rest of Austria though, it’s likely that restrictions will continue and for Herbert Kickl, that means so will the protests.

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.