Austria plans to start virus vaccination in January

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Austria plans to start its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in January, the health minister said Tuesday, with the elderly, at-risk groups and health professionals being first in line.

The country will acquire more than 16 million doses of the through the European Union which has signed six contracts for supplies, according to Clemens Martin Auer, who coordinates the 's pandemic response.

"In all likelihood we can start in January," Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said.

"Our goal is to vaccinate at least 50 percent of the population," he told a news conference, adding that the campaign would cost around 200 million euros ($237 million).

Auer, who is also vice-president of the EU's steering committee for purchasing vaccines, told the same press conference: "We will of course be beginning with older people, the over-65s, in particular the residents of old people's homes, as well as those who work there.

"The second target group is workers in the healthcare sector... and at-risk groups."

The campaign could therefore cover almost the entire population of 8.8 million, given that the most prominent vaccines in development are expected to require more than one dose.

For non-priority groups, vaccines will be available beginning around April, the ministry said.

Currently in its second coronavirus lockdown, Austria will also begin large-scale testing in early December.

The country's second lockdown has led to a slight drop in new cases, Anschober said.

On Tuesday, 4,377 people tested positive, down from 5,984 seven days ago, when the country had one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world.

The number of new deaths also remains high at 118.

Under restrictions imposed in early November, restaurants and bars, hotels, sports and entertainment venues and all cultural institutions were shut but the number of new infections continued to soar.

© 2020 AFP

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