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Austria vaccine mandate to take effect, but few emulating it

VIENNA (AP) – A law requiring most adults in Austria to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is ready to take effect, but the sense of urgency that accompanied its announcement in November has largely evaporated. Few other countries look likely to go as far as attention turns to loosening restrictions.

The Austrian mandate for residents 18 and over to get vaccinated – the first of its kind in Europe – cleared its last legislative hurdle on Thursday when Parliament’s Upper House approved what Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called “a forward-looking and active step.” The president signed the legislation yesterday.

It’s expected to become law in the coming days but it will be a while before Austrians notice any practical change. And it isn’t clear when or even whether the toughest part of the plan, which was watered down from the initial proposal, will take effect.

Only in mid-March will police start checking people’s vaccination status during traffic stops and checks on coronavirus restrictions. People who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked in writing to do so, and will be fined up to EUR600 if they don’t; fines could reach EUR3,600 if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.

In a third phase, officials would check the national vaccination register and send reminders to people who still aren’t vaccinated on dates set by the government, leading to potential fines. When and if those methodical checks start depends whether authorities, helped by a commission of experts that will report at least every three months, deem vaccination progress sufficient. Mueckstein said this week that he can’t name a date. “I would like us not to need phase three at all,” he told Oe1 radio.

The Austrian mandate – which will exempt pregnant women, people who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons and those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 – was first conceived as cases caused by the Delta variant surged amid concern that the country’s vaccination rate was low for Western Europe. At present, 69 per cent of the population is considered fully vaccinated.

A person gets vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus as the compulsory COVID-19 vaccination starts in Vienna, Austria. PHOTO: AP
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