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COVID-19

Austria presents first draft of vaccine mandate law: Here’s what we know

Austria on Thursday presented further details about its vaccine mandate law after some were leaked by media earlier in the week.

Doctor prepares vaccine
The law foresees fines of up to $3,600. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP

How will it work?

The details of the first draft were presented at press conference with Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein, Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler and chairwoman of the Neos opposition party Beate Meinl-Reisinger. Most of the details were those leaked to press earlier this week. The draft is also supported by the centre-left SPÖ.

People who have not received a vaccination will be contacted by letter every three months with a reminder to get the jab, and will be subject to fines, also once every three months, if they do not get a vaccine.

“We ruled out compulsory vaccinations for a long time. But we learned during the pandemic that we shouldn’t exclude anything. I have changed my personal opinion about it and I know that we have to take this step,” said Mückstein at the press conference.

He urged people not to wait for a specific vaccine to be developed (for example the Franco-Austrian Valneva jab) or to wait until the mandate becomes law, but to get their vaccine as soon as possible.

What are the fines?

The fines for violating the mandate could be issued every three months or a maximum of four times a year. They would be set at €600, but the fine for refusing to pay the penalty would be higher, at a maximum of €3,600.

People’s personal financial situation would be taken into account when setting the fine, according to the draft.

Doctors who issue a false certificate of exemption will also face fines of up to €3,600.

Who will it apply to and who’s exempt?

The law is set to apply to people aged 14 and older.

The exceptions that will apply will be the same ones which currently apply to 2G and 3G rules. This means pregnant women will be exempt during their pregnancy, and people for whom vaccination is not medically advised will also be exempted with a requirement for a statement from a doctor. Guidelines will be written up for doctors to determine which conditions can lead to an exemption being granted.

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.

How long will the law be in place?

The law won’t be a permanent thing. It is currently set to come into effect on February 1st, 2022 with the first fines issued from March 15th. But the current draft sets an expiry date of January 2024.

What’s the next step?

The draft will now undergo a review process, provisionally set to end on January 10th 2022.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria's federal government on Thursday announced it would scrap its controversial mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law.

Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria will cancel its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law, the federal government announced during a press conference on Thursday.

The controversial law had been suspended until August after coronavirus infection rates slowed. However, it hadn’t been abolished.

The government could still bring back a set of regulations allowing police to check people’s vaccinated status. Those that could not prove they were either vaccinated, or recently recovered from the disease, would have to pay a fine.

“The omicron variant changed the situation”, health minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

He added that the law was introduced in a different context and was supported by “a clear majority” at the time when hospitals were full and “intensive care units were on the limit”.

The minister said that the new variant has reduced the effectiveness of vaccination against infections and has caused less severe courses of the disease.

“Even people who are willing to vaccinate in principle are now more difficult to convince of the need for a third dose”.

Rauch said the obligation to vaccinate did not increase the take up of the Covid jab. Instead, it “opened deep trenches in Austrian society”, according to the minister.

The controversial law provoked numerous street protests throughout Austria after it was announced.

The minister said that the obligation itself even made some give up on their intent to get the jab.

Living with Covid

The new variants bring a new scenario to Austria and people will need to learn to coexist with the virus, according to the health minister.

“Living with Covid means that we will bring forward a comprehensive package of measures, and today that means the abolition of compulsory vaccination,” Rauch said.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

The minister reiterated that vaccination is essential, especially as it helps prevent hospitalisations and more severe disease courses. He added that there should be an extensive vaccination campaign before Autumn and an expected winter Covid-19 wave.

Currently, about 62 percent of the Austrian population has a valid vaccination certificate. However, the number has decreased as people fail to schedule booster, or a third-dose, appointments.

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 was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining vaccines and the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if 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.

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