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‘Far too little’: How Austria reacted to vaccine mandate suspension

Austria's federal government announced it would halt the vaccination mandate, prompting responses from politicians, specialists and citizens.

People queueing to be vaccinated outside a swimming pool in Vienna
People go to get vaccinated at the Amalienbad swimming pool in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

On Wednesday, Austria announced it would suspend its compulsory vaccination policy after much controversy on the matter. 

Constitutional Minister Karoline Edstadler (ÖVP) and newly-appointed Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said the law would be “put on hold” as the burden on fundamental rights was not necessary at the moment. 

The mandate was controversial but became more in question after Austria announced a series of relaxations of measures against Covid, including the end of the “green passport”, as people wouldn’t need to show proof of vaccination, recovery or test in most places from March 5th.

READ MORE: Will Austria’s vaccine mandate go ahead?

After a report by a specialist commission, the federal government decided to halt the next stage law. It will not impose sanctions and fines on unvaccinated people.

The ministers did say, however, that the mandate could be put back in place if necessary. The commission will evaluate the situation every three months and remain flexible, Edstadler said. 

On social media, other Austrian specialists have criticised the government’s decision. For example, Prof. Florian Krammer, an outspoken virologist, has asked: “Lift protective measures and suspend compulsory vaccination while infections are at an all-time high. Mr Rauch, does that make sense?”

‘Far too little’

In response to the government announcement, FPÖ party leader Herbert Kickl said that the suspension of compulsory vaccination was “far too little”.

He added that “postponed is not lifted” and demanded “new elections” in Austria so that the party can “guarantee that the Covid vaccination obligation will be buried”, Kickl said in a press statement.

The FPÖ leader also stated that the vaccination mandate is not even considered in any other European country.

However, neighbouring Germany has already instituted a vaccine mandate for health professionals. It is set to vote on a general mandate in April.

Other regional FPÖ party leaders, including Erwin Angerer in Carinthia, said that the party believes the compulsory vaccination is “unconstitutional, contrary to fundamental rights and meaningless”, according to a press release.

The far-right opposition party defends the regulation be removed without replacement. They warned that the mandate could be put back in force “in a few months or autumn”, something that the federal government did not rule out.

SPÖ calls for better planning

Opposition politicians in the SPÖ party have argued that the lifting of the vaccinations lacks better planning for autumn.

The party’s health spokesman Philip Kucher said that the country would stumble into autumn “and the next disaster” if the vaccination rates did not increase, according to a press statement.

Kucher added the government has no strategy for testing, vaccination or medication. “The government has done nothing to convince people, and the incentives have been buried”, he said. 

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig, also an SPÖ party member, took to Twitter to raise his concerns and called on the Health Ministry to “seriously deal with the high number of cases”. 

Ludwig pointed out that the country has record-level infection rates, saying that removing restrictive measures was a mistake, and Vienna would keep following its consistent path.

Contrary to the federal government, which lifted most restrictions on March 5th, Vienna has kept mandatory usage of FFP2 masks for all indoor areas and a 2G rule for gastronomy. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new Covid rules?

Austria this Wednesday reported 47,795 new Covid-19 cases, with 2,764 people currently hospitalised with the virus. Since the pandemic’s beginning, 15,113 people have died with Covid, 42 of them in the last 24 hours. 

Compared to other Western European regions, the country has had low vaccination rates, and just below 70 per cent of the total population is fully vaccinated.

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