Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Friday signed a controversial law introducing a national COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults that includes fines.
Those without proof of vaccination or exemption face an initial fine of 600 euros ($680) and additional fines up to 3,600 euros ($4,100). Individuals can be fined up to four times per year, and the law will last until January 2024.
Van der Bellen signed the law after parliament approved it on Thursday, according to his office in a statement to media outlets. The law will come into force on Saturday, his office said.
Pregnant women and those who can’t be inoculated because it could harm their health are exempt from the mandate. People who recently recovered from COVID-19, caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, within 180 days are also exempt, according to details of the law.
According to the law, anyone aged 18 and older has to get the vaccine. They also have to receive boosters when eligible.
“The vaccine mandate won’t immediately help us break the Omicron wave, but that wasn’t the goal of this law,” Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said Thursday before Parliament’s upper chamber approved the plan. “The vaccine mandate should help protect us from the next waves, and above all from the next variants.”
In March, Austrian police will start checking people’s vaccination status during traffic stops and checks on COVID-19 restrictions, according to the law. People who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked in writing to do so and will face fines.
Opposition politicians, including Freedom Party of Austria leader Herbert Kickl, said the rule represents “an inglorious era for the rule of law and the fundamental rights and freedoms of Austrians,” according to Die Presse.
“I don’t really see the added value of the vaccine mandate at this point,” said Gerald Gartlehner, an epidemiologist at the Danube University Krems. The Omicron variant’s highly infectious nature and milder symptoms have proven to be a pandemic game-changer, he said, adding that much of the population already has immunity via a previous infection or vaccination.
Meanwhile, in Germany, members of Parliament are debating on whether to also consider a compulsory vaccine for all adults.
But elsewhere in Europe, some countries have started to drop COVID-19 rules, including vaccine mandates. Denmark, for example, lifted all its COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday and Sweden will follow on Feb. 9.
“At the same time as infections are skyrocketing, [the number of] patients admitted to intensive care [is] actually going down,” Soren Brostrom, director-general of Denmark’s Health Authority, said in a CNN interview. “It’s around 30 people in ICU beds right now with a COVID-19 diagnosis, out of a population of 6 million.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.