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11 Dec, 2021 16:19

Thousands march against vaccine mandate (VIDEOS)

Around 20,000 demonstrators have poured into the streets of Vienna, protesting the Austrian government’s plans to make Covid vaccination mandatory early next year.

Groups opposing the nationwide Covid-19 vaccine mandate, which is due to be introduced in February 2022, advertised the event as a “mega-demo for freedom and against chaos and coercion.”

Vienna police have deployed 1,400 officers, including reinforcements from other regions, to prevent major disturbances and ensure that people are wearing masks.

Demonstrators marched with signs featuring slogans such as ‘No to compulsory vaccination’ and ‘Hands off our children’. Others called on the government to step down.

Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party is among the groups behind the biggest anti-mandate protest being held on Saturday. Activists notified the authorities in Vienna this week about the 32 planned rallies, though not all of them are anti-mandate protests. A total of eight demonstrations were prohibited for various reasons.

Ahead of Saturday’s rally, the leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, Herbert Kickl, called on demonstrators to behave peacefully. A similar rally attracted more than 40,000 people last week.

Last month, then-Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that all Austrians, except those with medical exemptions and children under 14, must be vaccinated by February 1. He has since resigned, but his successor, Karl Nehammer, has said the policy will remain in place.

The conservative government announced on Thursday that those refusing to be vaccinated will face a €3,600 fine ($4,071) every three months until January 2024. If approved by parliament, which is likely, Austria will be the first EU member state to put in place a sweeping vaccine mandate.

Around 68% of Austrians have already been fully vaccinated against Covid – a rate notably lower than in most Western European nations. Austria has been struggling to contain a massive Covid outbreak since November, with doctors warning that the healthcare system is strained to the max in some regions. 

Around 68% of Austrians have already been fully vaccinated against Covid – a rate notably lower than in most Western European nations. Austria has been struggling to contain a massive Covid outbreak since November, with doctors warning that the healthcare system is strained to the max in some regions. 

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