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.
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.
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.