These zones would cover hospitals as well as test and vaccine centres, making it possible for police to remove anyone posing an obstacle to the safe operation of the facility, and to break up gatherings that make it hard to access the site.
The idea of protection zones was raised in December by Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner due to the threat of radicalised Covid vaccination opponents.
Karner said he did not want to restrict people’s right to protest but said health facilities needed to be “very, very vigilant” to the threat posed by “right-wing marginalised groups”.
While the majority of the protests against Covid measures – including the mandatory vaccination order – have been peaceful, there are growing fears about radicalisation on the fringes of the movement.
Several protestors have carried banners liking Covid measures to the persecution of Jews under the Nazis, and even likening Austrian politicians and healthcare workers to Nazi officials.
Demonstrations have taken place directly outside hospitals in cities nationwide, prompting police in Lower Austria for example to strengthen police protection around hospitals.
One medical director in the region told the ORF public broadcaster in December that relatives visiting patients had been insulted by demonstrators, and leaflets had been left on hospital employees’ cars comparing them to Joseph Mengeles, a Nazi war criminal who carried out medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners.
It’s not only hospitals that get this kind of protection, called a Schutzzone in German. One was in place at the Austrian parliament on Thursday as the vaccine mandate law was set to be passed for example, due to a law against gatherings within 300 metres of an in-session National Council meeting. The law is also often used to protect schools and kindergartens.