Covid 19 coronavirus: Austria approves vaccine mandate

Austrian Parliament has approved national Covid-19 vaccine mandate for adults, effective from February 1 – the first of its kind in Europe.

Lawmakers voted 137 to 33 to approve the mandate, which will apply to all residents of Austria aged 18 and over. Exempted from the mandate are pregnant women, individuals who for medical reasons can’t be vaccinated and people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.

Officials say the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low in the small Alpine country.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s governing coalition worked with two of the three opposition parties in parliament on the plan to implement the mandate. It calls for the vaccine mandate to go into effect at the beginning of February, but enforcement will start in mid-March.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, speaking in parliament, called the measure a “big, and, for the first time, also lasting step” in Austria’s fight against the pandemic.

“This is how we can manage to escape the cycle of opening and closing, of lockdowns,” he said, noting that it’s about fighting not just omicron, but any future variants that might emerge. “That is why this law is so urgently needed right now.”

To start with, 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 in writing to do so, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($1000) if they don’t.

If authorities judge the country’s vaccination progress still to be insufficient, Nehammer says they would then send reminders to people who remain unvaccinated. If that still 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 3600 euros ($6000) if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.

– AP

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