Austria is pushing ahead with plans to make vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory among its wider population from February, the country’s coalition government has announced after consulting scientists and legal experts.
“We didn’t want a vaccine mandate, let me make that explicit,” the minister for EU and constitutional affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, said. “But 20 months on from the start of the pandemic we are in a situation that is dramatic if you look at intensive care units at hospitals.”
Only a general vaccine mandate would get the country closer to its goal of avoiding a fifth or sixth wave of the virus, Edtstadler, of the conservative Austrian People’s party (ÖVP), said.
Austria is halfway through a 20-day lockdown, its fourth of the pandemic, after experiencing one of the steepest surges in cases in Europe. The chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, announced on 19 November that his government would prepare the ground for vaccination against Covid-19 to become mandatory from 1 February, which would make it the first country in the west to take such a step.
“Of course it represents an intrusion into our basic and civil liberties”, which is why the government had set up discussions with the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS), the health minister, Wolfgang Mückstein, said. The far-right Freedom party (FPÖ), which is seeking to challenge the vaccine mandate legally, was not invited.
A draft law will not be presented until the week of 6 December, but several politicians have signalled that vaccination would be made mandatory but not compulsory, meaning no one would be forcibly injected.
Constitutional lawyers have advised making vaccination mandatory for anyone over 14, which is the age of criminal responsibility in Austria. One report in Die Presse newspaper suggested it could be mandatory from 12, with exceptions for those who are advised not to take the jab for underlying health reasons.
Those who refuse to be vaccinated would receive two warnings, followed in case of non-compliance by an administrative fine of €3,600 (£3,000), which could be issued twice. The government declined to comment on Tuesday about the details of the law mentioned in the press.
As of this week, 67% of Austria’s population is considered fully vaccinated, and 70% have received one dose.