The Austrian government has said it won’t immediately enforce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that would have forced most adults to receive a vaccine by mid-March or face fines.
The mandate, for people over the age of 18, was signed into law in February, coming about two months after it was announced in Austria’s Parliament. Austria was the first country in the European Union to enact such a measure.
Starting this month, Austrian police would have been able to check people’s vaccination status during traffic stops and on the street. Those who didn’t have proof of vaccination would have been asked in writing to provide proof or face fines of up to 600 euros ($653). For subsequent violations, the fines could reach 3,600 euros ($3,974).
Austria’s minister for the EU, Karoline Edtstadler, announced on March 9 that the law wouldn’t go into effect and said it represents an “encroachment of fundamental rights” that can no longer be justified.
“After consultations with the health minister, we have decided that we will, of course, follow what the [expert] commission has said,” Edtstadler told reporters, following a government cabinet meeting. “We see no need to actually implement this compulsory vaccination due to the [Omicron] variant that we are predominantly experiencing here.”
A commission of experts is scheduled to re-evaluate the situation and the law in mid-June, she said.
Only neighboring Germany is even considering emulating Austria’s lead on enacting such a law—and it’s still uncertain whether it will do so. Some countries in Europe have introduced limited mandates for specific professional or age groups.
The Austrian mandate exempted pregnant women, people who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, and those who have recently recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Edtstadler told reporters that the universal vaccine law might be needed in the future.
“I don’t think I need a crystal ball to tell you that today’s isn’t the last chapter we will write regarding the vaccination mandate,” she said.
After the law was proposed, it proved to be controversial in Austria. Numerous protesters took to the streets of Vienna and other cities in recent months.
Starting March 5, Austria’s government lifted most of its COVID-19-related restrictions following a significant drop in cases, scrapping curfews for bars and restaurants while allowing nightclubs to reopen. Vaccine passports that blocked unvaccinated people from entering certain venues also have been rescinded, the government said, noting that unvaccinated people will need to provide proof of a negative CCP virus test instead of a vaccine pass.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.