Austria’s parliament has approved the introduction of compulsory Covid-19 vaccination for adults from next month, becoming the first European country to do so.
Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated against mandatory vaccinations in regular weekend rallies since the measure was announced in November in a bid to boost the country’s vaccination rate.
But all parties except the far right backed the measure, with the new legislation passing with 137 votes in favor and 33 against.
“It is passed by a (necessary) majority,” said Doris Bures, second president of the National Council, after the new legislation was debated for hours.
To date, 72% of Austrian residents are fully immunized, matching the European Union average of just over 70%, but several percentage points lower than regional neighbors such as Italy. and France.
Under the new law, after an initial “entry phase”, those who oppose the coup can face fines of up to €3,600 from mid-March.
The government initially wanted to cover anyone aged 14 and over, but now the measure only applies to adults, with the exception of pregnant women and people on medical exemption.
MPs from all parties voted overwhelmingly in favor of the law, with leaders of the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) and liberal NEOS throwing their support behind the centre-right-green coalition.
The only significant opposition came from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which courted anti-vaccination voters.
FPOe leader Herbert Kickl spoke out against the law during today’s charged parliamentary debate, saying it ‘opens the way to totalitarianism in Austria’.
He swore that he himself would continue to refuse vaccination in defiance of the new law.
“Vaccination is an opportunity for our society to achieve lasting and continuous freedom, because the virus can no longer restrict us,” centre-right Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters ahead of the parliamentary debate.
The curator, who took office in December, again acknowledged that it was a “very intensely discussed subject, very passionately discussed”.
Green Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called during the debate on “all citizens to challenge the myths around vaccination”, insisting that “all evidence indicates that the vaccines available in Austria are safe “.
However, some Austrians are yet to be convinced of the merits of the vaccination, with a few hundred opponents of the law gathering for a noisy protest near parliament this morning.
Teacher Kerstin said she felt the law went against the constitution and ignored the fact that “we are supposed to have certain basic rights”.
Others present argued that there were not enough studies on the long-term effects of the shots and that they would resist paying any fines.
On Wednesday, the government announced it was setting up “security zones” around health facilities and vaccination centers so that police could turn away anyone “causing difficulty”, including protesters.
To incentivize people, the government launches a lottery for all vaccinated with prizes of €500
vouchers to be used at shops, hotels, restaurants and cultural and sporting venues, Mr Nehammer said.
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Austria has so far recorded nearly 14,000 Covid-related deaths and 1.5 million cases among a population of around nine million.
The daily infection tolls continue to set records, with yesterday’s daily infection total hitting a new high of more than 27,600.
Compulsory vaccinations against Covid remain rare around the world, although Ecuador, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and Micronesia have such programs in place.