Thousands of anti-maskers rally in Austria

Around 10,000 people rallied in the Austrian capital on Saturday (January 16) to protest coronavirus restrictions, calling on the government to resign, Austrian police said.

With the Alpine country currently in its third lockdown since March in a bid to bring the pandemic under control, and with non-essential shops, concert halls and theatres, sports centres and schools all closed, the protesters' anger was directed at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, as well as at the media.

"The numbers of deaths we're being given, that's rubbish. I don't want to end up like China where you don't have any right to do anything," one woman who gave her first name as Gabi told AFP.

Brandishing banners proclaiming: "You're the disease. We're the cure" and waving Austrian flags, most of the demonstrators refused to wear masks or respect social distancing rules, including far-right politician and former deputy chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

As a result, Austrian police said on Sunday that it detained 23 people and filed charges against more than 300 others. Six of the suspects taken into custody were accused of resisting state authority.

Meanwhile, a counter-demonstration organised by the far-left comprising a crowd of around 500, according to police estimates, also took place on Saturday, denouncing "anti-mask lunacy".

Austria, which has a population of 8.9 million, has reported a total 7,053 deaths from Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

A panel of experts has recommended to Chancellor Kurz that the current restrictions should not be eased as planned on Jan 25, as the number of infections is showing no sign of slowing and the British variant of the virus continues to circulate.

The scientific advisers suggested making it mandatory to work from home and to extend the lockdown.

The government is scheduled to announce new measures on Sunday.

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