Austria’s mandatory Covid vaccine rule comes into force

All over 18s must receive the jab, except pregnant women and those with medical exemptions

<p>Doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrive in Salzburg, Austria, on 31 January, 2022. </p>

Doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrive in Salzburg, Austria, on 31 January, 2022.

A national coronavirus vaccine mandate has come into force in Austria, with the unjabbed facing large fines if they refuse to comply.

The new law, which applies to all over-18s except pregnant women and those who are medically exempt, makes Austria the first country in Europe to compel all its adult citizens to be immunised against Covid-19. Other nations including Germany could soon follow suit.

People living in Austria face penalties of up to €3,600 (£3,000) if they do not receive the necessary shots.

The government has acknowledged that the measure is not universally popular, as sizeable anti-vaxx protests continue. But its insists the step is needed in the interests of public health.

Karoline Edtstadler, Austria’s constitution minister, said she and her colleagues understand “it is really a strong step and really hard measure".

"We as politicians, have the responsibility to be sure that the healthcare system is still working, that society, as a whole, can live normally," she added.

Karen, a 44-year-old woman present at one of the ant-vaxx rallies, earlier told The Independent that people should not be forced to take this vaccine.

“I’m concerned my employer will demand it and I could lose my job,” she said.

The mandate is supposed to remain in place until January 2024.

Wolfgang Mueckstein, the health minister, called the law a “big, and, for the first time, also lasting step” in the Alpine nation’s fight against the pandemic.

“This is how we can manage to escape the cycle of opening and closing, of lockdowns. That is why this law is so urgently needed right now,” he said in parliament.

The introduction of the vaccination requirement comes as coronavirus cases spike in the EU member state, which, with only 72 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, has a lower immunisation rate than many of its neighbours.

The country reported 34,748 new infections on Friday, with its infection rate roughly ten times higher than it was in early January.

Despite an uptick in cases caused by the Omicron variant, Vienna has decided to loosen its Covid-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, citing low hospitalisation numbers to justify the move.

Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed over the weekend that restaurants can remain open until midnight from Saturday, ending a 10pm curfew that had been in place.

Unvaccinated people will be allowed back into shops from 12 February, he added.

Although it is now a legal requirement to have a Covid-19 vaccine, the authorities have indicated that they will not begin checking vaccination status until the middle of March.

More than 14,100 people have so far died in Austria from the virus.

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