The government confirmed that the law making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory is set to come into effect from February 1st, with a first draft to be presented on December 6th to undergo a four-week review process.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein urged people in Austria not to wait until the law comes into force, but to get their vaccine as soon as possible.
“Yes, [the mandate] is in intrusion into fundamental rights and freedoms,” he acknowledged, saying that this was the reason the government is involving a wide range of people in their discussions on the law. He stressed that the law was “the only alternative”, given the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing serious illness and the currently low vaccination rate.
The details were shared at a press conference from Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler and Mückstein, following talks between the government, opposition parties SPÖ and NEOS, and experts, which the health minister called a “fruitful exchange”.
Edtstadler confirmed that such a mandate was not a violation of constitutional rights, if it can achieve the goal of protecting national health.
She apologised to members of the public who did not feel they had been “adequately informed” about the vaccine, and said there had been “failures” in this area.
More than 70 percent of Austria’s population has now had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, but Mückstein said “from an epidemiological point of view, that is not enough” to avoid future lockdowns and pressure on Austrian healthcare.
Beyond confirmation of the timeline, there were few new details on Tuesday about how the law will work in practice, with both ministers stressing that more talks would be carried out with the opposition parties and relevant organisations and experts.
The ministers were asked from what age the mandate would begin, and Edtstadler said this would need to be discussed further before it was decided.
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She said that in any case, children in the Volkschule (primary school, usually aged between six and ten) would most likely not be affected by the mandate, and suggested that an age limit of 14 would be possible.
Edtstadler also refused to comment on the potential monetary amount of administrative fines for violations of the mandate, after reports in Austrian media that the amount was likely to be set at €3,600, which could be issued twice to make a total of €7,200.
A reporter also asked whether there was a possibility that if the vaccination rate improved, the law would not be introduced, to which Edtstadler replied: “We see the necessity of a vaccine mandate.”
The far-right Freedom Party was not involved in Tuesday’s discussions, and its leader Herbert Kickl on Tuesday described the government as “stupid and sadistic” in his first speech after being in quarantine for a Covid-19 infection.
The plans for a vaccine mandate have sparked protests across the country over the last two weekends, including some rallies organised by the Freedom Party.