VIENNA, Austria – Austria’s parliament on Thursday is expected to approve making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for adults from next month, becoming the first European country to do so.
Lawmakers from all parties, except those from the far right, are expected to vote in favour of the new law as the number of daily infections reached yet another record on Wednesday.
To date 72 percent of Austrian residents are fully vaccinated — in line with the European Union-wide average of just more than 70 percent but several percentage points below regional neighbours such as Italy and France.
Tens of thousands have demonstrated against mandatory vaccination in regular weekend rallies since the measure was announced in November.
Under the new law, after an initial “entry phase” those holding out against the jab can face fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,084) from mid-March.
The government initially wanted to cover everyone aged 14 and older, but now the measure only applies to adults, except pregnant women and those with a medical exemption.
“Vaccination is an opportunity for our society to achieve lasting and continuous freedom, because the virus cannot restrict us any further,” Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters on Thursday ahead of the parliament debate.
The conservative, who took office in December, again acknowledged that it was a “very intensively discussed, a very passionately discussed topic”.
To incentivise people, the government is launching a lottery for all those vaccinated with prizes of 500-euro vouchers to be used in shops, hotels, restaurants and culture and sports venues, Nehammer said.
On Wednesday the government announced it was setting up “security zones” around health facilities and vaccination centres so that the police can turn away anyone “causing difficulties”, including demonstrators.
Austria has to date seen almost 14,000 Covid-related deaths and 1.5 million cases in a population of some nine million.
Wednesday’s daily infection total was a record of more than 27,600.
Compulsory vaccinations against Covid remain rare worldwide, though Ecuador, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and Micronesia have introduced such schemes.