VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s conservative-led government on Thursday gave details of its plan to make coronavirus vaccines compulsory, saying it will apply to people 14 and over and holdouts face fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,071) every three months.
Roughly 68% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Many Austrians are skeptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament.
As infections set records three weeks ago, the government announced a fourth national lockdown and said it would make vaccinations compulsory for all, the first European Union country to do so.
“We do not want to punish people who are not vaccinated. We want to win them over and convince them to get vaccinated,” the minister for constitutional affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, told a news conference with Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.
The vaccine mandate, which must be approved by parliament, is due to start in February and last through January 2024. Two opposition parties support it, suggesting it will pass easily.
There will be quarterly vaccination deadlines, Mueckstein said, adding that the authorities will check a central vaccination register to see if members of the public are in it.
“If that is not the case, proceedings will be brought. In regular proceedings the amount of the fine is 3,600 euros,” Mueckstein said, adding that fines would be means-tested.
“As an alternative, the authorities have the option to impose a fine in shorter proceedings immediately after the vaccination deadline. Here the amount of the fine is 600 euros,” he said, adding that if this was not paid it would lead to regular proceedings.
There will be exemptions for pregnant women and people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, he added.
($1 = 0.8844 euros)
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)