Sunday, September 24

Austria Approves Covid Vaccine Mandate, But Questions Remain About Implementation | Austria

Austria has become the first EU country to make Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for all adults, but questions remain over whether it can convince skeptics to get the shot and how much the government is willing to push. of the alpine state to those who win. achieve

The upper house of the Austrian parliament, the Bundesrat, voted Thursday night 47-12 in favor of a general vaccination mandate, formally approving a law that will make those over 18 who refuse to receive a puncture face penalties of up to 3,600 euros, unless they are pregnant or seriously ill.

The legislation, which was signed by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Friday and is due to take effect in the coming days, has been followed with great interest across Europe, where other nations have considered taking a similar step.

Already approved by the lower house of Austria’s parliament with a clear majority last month, Austria’s vaccine mandate will come into effect in three stages.

All households must be informed of the new law by mail before March 15, after which the police will start monitoring people’s vaccination status through random checks and issue fines of 600 euros, rising to 3,600 euros. in case of non-compliance.

In the third phase, those who cannot show proof of vaccination within a certain period will automatically be fined, but it is unclear whether the government still wishes to enforce its mandate to such an extent.

In an interview with public broadcaster ORF on Thursday morning, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein was unable to give a date for the crucial deadline.

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As Austria inched closer to a decision on mandatory vaccinations, Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservative-Greens coalition government simultaneously loosened restrictions on the unvaccinated.

A “lockdown for the unvaccinated” was lifted on Monday, and shops, restaurants and hotels in most parts of the country will soon be able to welcome visitors who haven’t received a vaccine, as long as they can show a recent negative test result.

Political developments around the mandate have been closely watched in Germany, where government calls for a similar law have grown more cautious in recent weeks.

“Since the government announced the mandatory measure in mid-January, it has done everything to undermine, water down and make its own project redundant,” the Munich-based German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote in a comment. “The message is clear: we didn’t mean it.”

Gerald Loacker, a health spokesman for the liberal opposition party NEOS, said it was impossible to ignore the decline in political enthusiasm for mandatory vaccinations.

“What we are dealing with here is a vaccination mandate that comes into effect just as the government is making it possible for those who are not vaccinated to walk into a bar with a subsidized free test result and raise a glass to their resistance,” Loacker said. . he told the Guardian.

“That is not a consistent policy, and people in Austria are taking note of that.”

Karl Stöger, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Vienna, said the apparent inconsistency was partly a deliberate choice. “The vaccination mandate has legal force, but it is also a law that is very cognizant of the limits of what a state can force people to do,” he said.

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Stöger, who has advised the government on handling the pandemic, said it is possible that Austria’s constitutional court could still block the vaccination mandate, especially if an “endemic” situation of the virus with low hospitalization rates no longer makes it vaccines seem vital.

Like many other European countries, Austria is experiencing record rates of Covid-19 infections, but the number of patients with the virus in intensive care beds is falling.

However, given that 68.8% of its population received at least two injections of a vaccine, the government argues that only mandatory vaccinations will bring immunization rates high enough to weather another wave of the virus later in the year. of this year.

Last December’s emphatic endorsement of the vaccine mandate idea on behalf of the government, then still led by acting chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, has also made it politically difficult for the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) to change its mind without losing face.

“There is a feeling that the whole of Europe is watching us: a change of direction by the government at this stage would amount to a huge loss of prestige,” said Clemens Schuhmann, a journalist for the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten newspaper.

However, enforcing the mandate could risk further fueling divisions in a society already polarized over the course of the pandemic.

Upper Austria, the northern state Schuhmann reports on, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with less than 60% of residents fully vaccinated in some municipalities bordering southern Germany.

“Those who are going to be vaccinated by mandate are those who cannot pay the fines,” he said. “The risk is that others become even more radicalized and prefer to go to prison rather than receive the puncture.”

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