Austria’s opposition says mandatory Covid jabs ‘not achievable’

Austria's opposition SPÖ has seemingly sounded the death knell for mandatory vaccinations in Austria in any form, saying it was "not achievable now or in the future".

A person approaches a vaccination booth in Vienna, Austria Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP
A person approaches a vaccination booth in Vienna, Austria Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

The leader of Austria’s opposition SPÖ party, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, has ruled out supporting compulsory vaccination against Covid in the future, although the SPÖ supported the measure by the federal government last year.

The former doctor told the ORF press hour that  while in theory, she still supported mandatory vaccination, she no longer believed it was “achievable now or in the future” because the federal government lost the trust of the people that it was still necessary to implement the measure.

She did not support compulsory vaccination for over 60s either, and said it would reassure younger people there was no need for them to get vaccinated.

SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner also called on the government to set VAT on food to zero in view of the skyrocketing prices. The EU had made this possible with a new directive, and the government should implement this proposal, she said.

The SPÖ is calling for new elections. Rendi-Wagner said the party did not rule out a coalition with Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s ÖVP party – previously the SPÖ did not want to form a coalition with the  ÖVP party while Sebastian Kurz was in charge.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

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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.