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COVID-19

€600 fines: What’s the latest on Austria’s compulsory vaccine plan?

Austria's planned vaccine mandate law will take a step towards becoming reality this week, and will reportedly apply from the age of 14, with fines of €600 which can be issued multiple times.

Vaccines underway at Vienna's famous St Stephen's Cathedral.
Vaccines underway at Vienna's famous St Stephen's Cathedral. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP

Several of Austria’s major national newspapers including the Kurier, Die Presse, Heute and Der Standard claimed to have seen a copy of the draft law, though the Ministry of Health declined to comment on it when asked by broadcaster ORF, saying an official first draft will be submitted later this week.

According to the media reports, the law will come into effect on February 1st but fines will not be issued until March 15th, allowing people the chance to get vaccinated after the law becomes reality. The government has however repeatedly urged Austrian residents not to wait until the mandate to get their jab. Reminder letters inviting people to vaccination would be sent by the Ministry of Health in February; similar letters have already been sent out by social insurance agencies.

READ ALSO: When will Austria’s Covid lockdown end?

The law would require three doses: the second between 14 and 42 days after the first, and a third between 120 and 270 days after the second. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson vaccines would be recognised. 

The Local has contacted the Ministry of Health for further information, including what would apply to people who were vaccinated with jabs not approved in Austria, for example those who received the Sputnik vaccine abroad.

The mandate would apply from the age of 14 (vaccination is currently available for children in Austria from the age of five), but people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons would be excluded, as they have been from 2G requirements. Pregnant people would also be excluded from the mandate, as would those who had recently recovered from a Covid-19 infection, although only for 180 days following the infection.

READ ALSO: Is the lockdown boosting Austria’s sluggish vaccination rate?

For people who were previously covered by an exemption, the mandate would apply from the end of the month after the exemption ceasing to apply. This would be the case for teenagers after their 14th birthday, people after the birth of their child, and people who had a recovery certificate, for examples.

Reports say the fines for violating the mandate would be set at €600, which could be issued every three months up to an annual total of €2,400. The fine for refusing to pay the penalty would be set at a maximum of €3,600 — though the draft reportedly includes a clause to say that personal financial circumstances should be taken into account when setting the fine. This money would be used to fund hospitals.

READ ALSO: How foreign residents feel about Austria’s pandemic response

As of December 4th, 71.7 percent of the total Austrian population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The mandate has sparked major protests across the country over recent weeks, with five arrests made when a small minority of over 40,000 protestors in Vienna clashed with police last weekend.

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COVID-19

Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.

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