Skirmishes break out as thousands march in Vienna against Austria’s Covid measures.


Thousands of people from across Austria marched through the heart of Vienna on Saturday, chanting “freedom” and “resistance” at a mass demonstration that attracted families and far-right groups alike, united in their anger at their government’s decision to impose further restrictions on public life and a mandate for vaccines to protect against the coronavirus.

The police in Vienna estimated that up to 35,000 people took part in the march through the city center. Throughout much of the afternoon, the protests remained largely peaceful, but as dusk fell over the Austrian capital, skirmishes broke out between officers and groups of demonstrators, and the police braced for further violence.

Members of far-right groups and hooligans threw beer cans at officers and set off pyrotechnics at points along the route, the police said. At least five people were arrested, officials said, and several others were written up for violations involving failure to wear masks, or for displaying stars like those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust.

At other points along the route, demonstrators banged on drums and rang cowbells to express their frustration at measures aimed at halting the rampant surge of the coronavirus, including a nationwide lockdown starting on Monday. Many of the protesters complained that they felt their leaders had failed to do enough before imposing the most drastic measures.

Among the angry protesters was Katja Schoissenger, a mother of two young children from Vienna, who carried a sign reading, “Freedom, peace and humanity.” She said she was angry about the limitations being imposed on the unvaccinated. Since Monday, those who could not provide proof of vaccination or recent recovery from Covid have been banned from public life, both indoor and out, with the police carrying out spot checks in restaurants and parks alike.

“Society is being massively divided and set against a group of people who are being shut out of public life and forced to do things we don’t want to do,” Ms. Schoissenger said. “I have nothing against people who want to be vaccinated. It is a free decision, and I think that’s OK and legitimate, but I am a young, healthy person and it’s not an issue for me.”

More than one-third of the population in Austria is not vaccinated, one of the highest proportions in Europe. As a result, the number of new infections has soared in recent weeks, and the 15,809 cases reported on Saturday set a record.

The number of unvaccinated people is straining Austria’s health system. Daily deaths have risen from an average in the single digits in late September to more than 40, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University.

The populist Freedom Party, which has vociferously opposed the government’s coronavirus restrictions over the past 18 months, helped organize Saturday’s protests, attracting far-right groups and conspiracy theorists from across the country and neighboring Germany.

“We are all Austrians, regardless of whether we are vaccinated or not vaccinated,” Udo Landbauer, a regional party leader, told the crowd at a rally on Heldenplatz. “We have rights, and we will continue to be loud until we get our basic rights back.”

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