Tens of thousands of people, many of whom were far-right supporters, protested against coronavirus restrictions in Vienna on Saturday, a day after Austria’s government announced a new lockdown and said vaccines would be made mandatory next year.
Whistling, honking and drumming, crowds streamed into Heroes Square, one of several protest venues, in front of the Hofburg, the former royal palace in central Vienna.
Many protesters waved Austrian flags and made signs with slogans such as “not for vaccination,” “enough is enough” or “down with the fascist dictatorship.”
By mid-afternoon, the crowd had grown to about 35,000 people, according to police, and protesters were walking down Vienna’s Inner Ring Road before heading back to the Hofburg. A police spokesman said there had been fewer than 10 arrests for violations of coronavirus restrictions and a ban on Nazi symbols.
About 66% of Austria’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. Many Austrians are skeptical about vaccines, a view promoted by the far-right Freedom Party, the third largest in parliament.
After setting records with daily infections even after a lockdown was imposed on the uninsured this week, the government on Friday said it would resume a lockdown on Monday and make vaccinations mandatory by February 1.
The Freedom Party (FPO) and other vaccine-critical groups were already planning a demonstration of force on Saturday in Vienna ahead of Friday’s announcement, which prompted FPO leader Herbert Kickel to respond that “to date, Austria is a dictatorship.” Kickl could not attend as he has caught COVID-19.
“We are not in favor of our government’s measures,” said one protester, who was part of a group wearing tin foil on his head and branding toilet brushes. Like most of the protesters who spoke to the media, he declined to give his name, although the mood was of celebration.