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Austria to lift lockdown on unvaccinated residents as vaccine mandate rolls out

Austria will end its lockdown for unvaccinated residents next Monday, one day before a COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect in the country, the government announced Wednesday, according to Austrian news agency APA.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said the measure, which was introduced in November, was no longer needed because there was no threat of hospital intensive care units being overstretched, APA reported.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

For weeks, the lockdown for the unvaccinated has been “a measure that many people complained about, but that was unavoidable for health policy reasons,” Nehammer said.

On February 1, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults, the first of its kind in Europe, will take effect in the small Alpine country.

Officials have said the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low. They say it will ensure that Austria’s hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. So far, 75.4 percent of the country’s residents have been fully vaccinated.

Once the mandate goes into effect, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules.

From mid-March, police will start checking people’s vaccination status during routine checks; people who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked to do so in writing and will be fined up to 600 euros ($676) if they don’t.

If authorities judge the country’s vaccination progress still to be insufficient, Nehammer said earlier this month, they would then send reminders to people who remain unvaccinated.

If even that doesn’t work, people would be sent a vaccination appointment and fined if they don’t keep it. Officials hope they won’t need to use the last measure. Fines could reach 3,600 euros if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.

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Kim Jong Un carries coffin at North Korean military officer’s funeral

A maskless Kim Jong Un was one of the pallbearers at the state funeral for a top military officer, North Korean state media reported Monday, days after Pyongyang claimed the country's Covid-19 outbreak was now under control.

Kim on Sunday attended the funeral of Hyon Chol Hae, a Korean People's Army marshal who reportedly mentored the North Korean leader to take over from his father Kim Jong Il.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released photos of Kim, not wearing a face mask, hoisting up Hyon's casket along with other regime officials, who were masked.

Hyon died of multiple organ failure at the age of 87, according to KCNA.

The North Korean leader has put himself front and centre of his country's Covid response, blaming lazy state officials for worsening the Omicron variant-fuelled outbreak.

Over the weekend, KCNA said the epidemic was now “being stably controlled”, and reported the death toll “sharply decreased day by day”.

Experts question the official claim and tally, given that the impoverished country has one of the world's worst healthcare systems and no Covid-19 drugs or mass testing ability.

It has not vaccinated any of its roughly 25 million people, having rejected jabs offered by the World Health Organization.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

North Korea announced its first coronavirus case on May 12, despite a two-year blockade maintained since the start of the pandemic.

Pyongyang reported 167,650 “fever” cases on Monday via KCNA, a notable drop from the peak of around 390,000 reported about a week before.

It reported one more death and claimed the fatality rate for the “fever” was 0.002 percent.

State media reports do not specify how many of the cases and deaths have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pyongyang has so far not responded to an offer of help from Seoul, according to South Korea's unification ministry.

During his visit to Seoul at the weekend, US President Joe Biden said Washington had also offered Covid-19 vaccines to Pyongyang but “got no response”.

Despite the virus outbreak, new satellite imagery has indicated North Korea has resumed construction at a long-dormant nuclear reactor.

The US and South Korea have both warned that Kim is poised to conduct another nuclear test, which would be the country's seventh.

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North Korea’s fever cases under 200,000 for second day amid silence on aid offer

North Korea's daily fever cases stayed below 200,000 for a second day in a row, state media said on Monday, as Pyongyang remained silent on South Korean and US offers to help fight its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID wave, declared on May 12, has fuelled concerns over a lack of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million.

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that Washington had offered COVID-19 vaccines to China and North Korea, but “got no response.”

North Korea reported 167,650 new patients suffering from fever on Monday and one more death. More than 2.33 million of the 2.81 million cumulative cases reported since late April had recovered as of Sunday evening, the North's state news agency KCNA said. The official death toll stands at 68.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

While staying silent on the offer for help, North Korea has boasted of a “favorable turn” in the country's virus situation.

“The crisis and responsibility awareness is further enhanced in every region, sector, workplace and post across the country to maintain the favorable turn in the epidemic prevention work and all inroads of the epidemic are checked through the strict execution of regional and unit lockdown and blockade measures,” the KCNA said.

Such COVID-19 restrictions may be playing a role in North Korea's lack of response, a senior US administration official said Sunday.

Apparently deprived of testing supplies, North Korea has not confirmed the total number of people testing positive for the coronavirus. Instead, health authorities report the number with fever symptoms, making it difficult to assess the scale of the COVID wave, experts have said.

Authorities have distributed food and medicine across the country, with military medics deployed to help distribute drugs and conduct exams.

KCNA said pharmaceutical factories “are speeding up the production,” but did not elaborate which medicines were being produced.

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Beijing city reports 63 new local COVID-19 cases over 24 hours

Beijing reported 63 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections during the 24 hours to 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) on Saturday, a disease control official at the Chinese capital said.

Of the infections, 56 were found in controlled areas and seven during community screening tests, Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director at Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told a news briefing.

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The city has recorded 1,399 COVID infections since April 22, Liu said.

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