Compulsory Covid vaccination one step closer in Austria

Austria’s plan for nationwide mandatory Covid vaccinations has been voted through parliament, bringing the controversial move a step closer.

Vaccinations will soon be compulsory in Austria
Austria's compulsory vaccination plan is one step closer. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Compulsory vaccination in Austria moved one step closer on Thursday after the proposal was voted through by the ÖVP, Greens, NEOS and the majority of the SPÖ parties.

The controversial order has been met with widespread support in Austrian politics, with only the far-right Austrian Freedom Party opposing the order. 

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

In order for the law to come into force, the signature of the Federal President and the announcement are now required. This is expected to take place in the next few days. 

There will be exceptions from the vaccine mandate for pregnant women and those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, as well as for those who have recovered (for 180 days). 

The penalty ranges from 600 to 3,600 euros, but checks will only begin from mid-March.

Will Sputnik be recognised in Austria? 

New legislation is also being considered which could mean vaccinations such as Sputnik could be recognised in Austria, according to the Kurier newspaper, which saw a leaked draft of the papers. 

This would help retain nursing staff from Eastern Europe who are working in Austria. 

Another new rule being considered would exempt people who were vaccinated twice after recovering from a Covid-19 from having to have a booster jab. 

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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.