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As Europe enters a bleak winter of COVID restrictions, US unlikely to return to lockdowns

Austria announced a full lockdown on Friday, taking a step that European leaders had hoped would be unnecessary. ...
Police officers check the vaccination status of visitors during a patrol on a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg says the country will go into a national lockdown to contain a fourth wave of coronavirus cases. Schallenberg said the lockdown will start Monday, Nov.22, and initially last for 10 days.
Police officers check the vaccination status of visitors during a patrol on a Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, on November 19, 2021.

  • Austria is bringing back a full-scale lockdown amid a COVID-19 spike.
  • Case surges around Europe are bringing renewed restrictions, heralding a bleak winter.
  • Austria-style lockdowns are unlikely in the US — even if infections continue to climb.

Austrians earned an unenviable distinction Friday morning, when the country became Europe's first to go back into lockdown.

Everyone — vaccinated or not — is to stay at home on government instructions, much as they did when the pandemic first emerged.

The restrictions go into effect Monday and are due to last three weeks. After that, vaccinated people can resume their daily lives, but the unvaccinated are to stay locked down, Insider's Sinéad Baker reported on Friday.

Austria's response to the latest surge is part of a wider swath of restrictions sweeping Europe.

The country's lockdown was prompted by a sharp COVID surge, more extreme than some other places in Europe, but on a similar upward trajectory:

graphs show new confirmed cases per million in European countries.
Graphs show the seven-day rolling average of daily new confirmed cases per million people as of November 18, 2021.

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg gave an explanation for the new rules: not enough vaccinated people. Austria has one of Europe's lower vaccination rates, with just 65.71% of its population vaccinated.

Other countries are suffering lesser versions of the same paradigm. Germany (67% vaccinated), Slovakia (55%), and the Czech Republic (58%) are all in the midst of their own COVID surges — and government crackdowns are already underway.

Unvaccinated Germans now find themselves unable to ride public transit without proof of a negative test, and must work from home thanks to "a dramatic level of infection," according to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, residents are banned from restaurants and events without proof of vaccination.

Even well-vaccinated nations, like Ireland (75%) and and Belgium (76%), are bringing back restrictions like curfews, and are urging residents to work from home. 

Convincing people to get vaccinated has proved tricky — with many nations finding that mandates are ultimately a more effective mechanism for raising vaccination rates.

But while vaccination programs undoubtedly spared Europeans from additional COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, they didn't ward off a return to restrictions and lockdowns, Europe found.

An Austria-style lockdown is unlikely in the United States

biden/pelosi
US President Joe Biden talks to reporters after meeting with Democratic lawmakers at the US Capitol to promote his bipartisan infrastructure bill on October 1, 2021.

The US has historically responded to spikes in COVID-19 cases differently than Europe has. But as winter draws near, President Joe Biden faces a similar problem — relatively low levels of vaccination (57.8%) and a virus that's not giving up.

His efforts to roll out vaccination, first by persuasion and later using mandates, have prompted mixed results. In particular, Biden's sweeping push to enforce vaccination in US workplaces remains tangled in the courts system, and may yet be found unenforceable.

But despite those similarities, the US is unlikely to consider Austria-style lockdowns even if infections continue to rise, according to Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, 

"I don't think they would be accepted, frankly," Schaffner told Insider.

The American tendency to balk at the length and severity of past European lockdowns may reflect cultural differences between Europe and the US, Schaffner pointed out.

"Lockdowns are no longer on the list that government leaders at the local or state level would be considering seriously," he said, adding, "Although there will be surges, I don't think they would be of a magnitude that would precipitate a lockdown again."

While public health experts like Schaffner urge Americans to remain cautious and vigilant about COVID-19, that careful point of view has not been enthusiastically embraced, he said. Instead, politicians and everyday Americans want to return to a semblance of normal for the holidays.  

"We're operating on our own trajectory," Schaffner said of the United States.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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