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Thousands expected to protest upcoming lockdown in Vienna

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. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

VIENNA (AP) — Thousands of protesters were expected to gather in Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the quickly rising coronavirus infections in the country.

The far-right opposition Freedom Party is among those who have called for the protest and vowed to combat the new restrictions.

Demonstrations against virus measures are also expected in other European countries including Switzerland, Croatia and Italy.

On Friday night, Dutch police opened fire on protesters and seven people were injured in rioting that erupted in downtown Rotterdam around a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions.

The Austrian lockdownwill start early Monday and initially will last for 10 days, and will then be reevaluated. At the most it will last 20 days. Most stores will close, and cultural events will be canceled. People will be able to leave their homes only for certain specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

The Austrian government also said that starting Feb. 1, the country will make vaccinations mandatory.

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.

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Not quite 66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, according to government figures.

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg apologized to all vaccinated people on Friday night saying it wasn’t fair they had to suffer under the renewed lockdown restrictions when they had done everything to help contain the virus.

“I’m sorry to take this drastic step,” he said on public broadcaster ORF.

Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who announced earlier this week that he had tested positive for COVID-19, referred to the measures as “dictatorship.” Kickl must self-isolate for 14 days, so he won’t be able to attend the Vienna protest.

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