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3 Feb, 2022 22:22

First EU country imposes compulsory Covid vaccination

After Austria’s parliament approves the measure, it only expects the president's signature
First EU country imposes compulsory Covid vaccination

On Thursday, Austria’s compulsory vaccination bill has cleared its last parliamentary hurdle on its way to becoming a law. The parliament’s upper house – the Federal Council – has voted 47 to 12 in favor of the legislation. The right-wing Freedom Party was virtually the only one opposing the initiative. 

The bill is now expected to be signed by the Austrian president, Alexander Van der Bellen, and finally come into force in the next few days; possibly as early as on Saturday, according to the Austrian media. The legislation passed by the Lower House on January 20, was initially expected to come into force on February 1.

It would require every Austrian adult – except pregnant women or those exempt for medical reasons – to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Those refusing to do so might face financial penalties, with maximum fines amounting to €3,600 ($4,000). 

However, little will change for Austrians until mid-March since all the citizens would be first informed about the measure through letters sent by the authorities. The Austrian law enforcement will be demanding vaccination certificates during routine checks starting from March 16.

If a person fails to present a valid certificate, the police will report them to the authorities. Four such administrative proceedings per calendar year may result in a fine, according to the Austrian OE24 newspaper. 

The bill also envisages the so-called “third phase” that can be ordered by the health minister depending on the pandemic situation. As part of this phase, all Austrians that would not be vaccinated at a certain date and would have no valid exemption reasons would automatically be slapped with fines at least twice a year. 

The bill would also empower authorities to keep a database of every citizen’s vaccination status and the expiry date of said status, which can be searched by officials. The legislation is to remain in place until 2024.

Vienna first proposed compulsory vaccination back in November 2021, when Austria had a vaccination rate below Europe’s average. Since then, the situation has changed and over 75% of Austrians received at least one vaccine dose, according to the government statistics.

Over 68% of Austrians are deemed to be fully vaccinated and have an active vaccination certificate, the government reports. Almost 4.5 million out of 8.9-million-strong population have also received a booster shot.