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COVID-19 VACCINES

KEY POINTS: What’s in Austria’s vaccine mandate bill?

The Austrian government on Sunday announced the details of its draft law on a sweeping vaccine mandate for those over 18 years old. Here are the crucial takeaways.

Protesters hold a poster reading
Protesters hold a poster reading "No to compulsory vaccinations" as they demonstrate against the Austrian government's measures taken in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, on December 11, 2021 in Vienna, Austria, amidst the novel coronavirus / Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: FLORIAN WIESER / APA / AFP

Austria’s government confirmed on Wednesday that it would try and pass a vaccine mandate law that would apply to all residents of the country aged 18 and over.

  • There will be exceptions made for pregnant women, people who are exempt from vaccination due to medical reasons, and those who have tested positive for an infection with the coronavirus in the previous 180 days.
  • People’s vaccine status will be controlled by the police, for example at traffic control points.
  • Those who are found not to have been vaccinated will face an initial fine of €600 or up to €3,600 if they decide to challenge it in court.
  • People can avoid a fine if they get their first vaccination within two weeks of being caught.
  • The fines will only come into affect in mid-March.
  • A single person can be fined a maximum of four times during the year.
  • No one will go to prison if they refuse to pay their fines.

At the presentation of the bill, health minister Wolfgang Mückstein said that “vaccination protects – it protects us and our fellow citizens, and a high level of vaccination coverage protects our health system.”

The bill will be discussed by the Austrian parliament in the coming week.

Over the weekend thousands of people took to the streets of Vienna to protest against the compulsory vaccination bill.

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COVID-19 ALERT

EXPLAINED: How Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

The much-debated policy sparked controversy since before it was approved in February, meaning that May could be a definitive month in the country.

EXPLAINED: How Austria's compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

Austria’s Federal Government has a ticking time bomb on its hands: an ordinance that suspended its vaccine mandate law is set to expire by the end of May, which means that the controversial mandatory vaccination would be again in place as early as June 1st.

In order to keep that from happening, Austria’s Health Ministry needs to extend the current regulation or create a new one.

If it doesn’t, the Covid-19 mandatory vaccination law would automatically be back in June.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s plans to bring back the vaccine mandate?

Since, by June, the vaccine mandate stated that non-vaccinated would start getting fines, the resumption of the law would mean that, from next month, those who are not vaccinated could be fined in routine checks, such as traffic checks.

The ins and outs of the vaccine mandate

The law was first introduced in February, even though the technical requirements for it to be enacted were not in place. The first stage of it was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining about vaccines and about the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if they were not vaccinated, was set to start in mid-March. Before a single person was fined, though, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) suspended the law with an ordinance.

The law was suspended for a variety of reasons, primarily due to the relatively high vaccination coverage the country had already received, along with the lower virulence of the Omicron variant. 

READ ALSO: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

To create a new regulation or extend the existing one stopping people from being fined, Rauch must await the report of the vaccination commission, which should be ready in May, according to the Ministry.

The coronavirus commission will assess whether the Vaccination Act is suitable and useful from a medical and legal point of view. A previous report said there were arguments for and against mandatory vaccination for those who were completely unvaccinated.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

Der Standard reports there is little political support for compulsory vaccination and says there are still technical problems regarding automated fines. However, according to the Ministry of Health, the infrastructure should be completed in June.

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