Austrian parliament approves universal vaccine mandate

Austria approves universal vaccine mandate; Covid-19

Austria’s parliament has voted to introduce a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for adults from February 1, the first of its kind in Europe.

MPs voted 137 to 33 on Thursday to approve the mandate, which will apply to all residents of Austria aged 18 and over.

Exempted from the mandate are pregnant women, individuals who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated, and people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.

Officials say the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low.

Health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, speaking in parliament on Thursday, called the measure a “big and, for the first time, also lasting step” in Austria’s fight against the pandemic.

“This is how we can manage to escape the cycle of opening and closing, of lockdowns,” he said, saying it is about fighting not just omicron, but any future variants that might emerge.

“That is why this law is so urgently needed right now.”

The Austrian government first announced the plan for a universal vaccine mandate at the same time it imposed a since-lifted lockdown in November, and amid concern that Austria’s vaccination rate was comparatively low for western Europe.

As of Wednesday, 71.8% of the population of 8.9 million was considered fully vaccinated.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s governing coalition worked with two of the three opposition parties in parliament on the plan to implement the mandate.

It calls for the vaccine mandate to come into effect at the beginning of February, but enforcement will start in mid-March.

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