Austria’s parliament voted on Thursday to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults starting February 1, the first of its kind in Europe, The Associated Press reported.
The mandate has maximum potential fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,000) for people who don't comply after a series of reminders.
Lawmakers voted 137 to 33 in favor of the measure, which will apply to all residents of Austria aged 18 and over. Exemptions will be made for pregnant women, people who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated, or who have recovered from the coronavirus in the previous six months.
Officials say the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low in the country. They say it will ensure that Austria’s hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, speaking in parliament Thursday afternoon, called the measure a "big, and, for the first time, also lasting step" in Austria´s fight against the pandemic.
The Austrian government first announced the plan for a universal vaccine mandate at the same time it imposed a since-lifted lockdown in November. The plan has been met with large-scale protests in Vienna.
Once the mandate goes into effect in February, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules, noted AP.
From mid-March, police will start checking people’s vaccination status during routine checks; people who cannot t produce proof of vaccination will be asked in writing to do so, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($685) if they don’t.
Austria’s former Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, revealed in 2020 that it was a phone call from then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that made him act to curb the coronavirus.
When Austria was hit by a second wave of coronavirus, Kurz once again sought the help of Netanyahu, and the two held a conversation.