A woman gets a dose of Comirnaty, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), one day before the start of compulsory vaccination in Austria during the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
An Austrian law making it compulsory for adults to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the European Union's first such sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate, was promulgated on Friday and will go into force on Saturday.
Austria's upper house of parliament passed the bill on Thursday by a large margin. It was officially published on Friday afternoon after being signed into law by President Alexander Van der Bellen and Chancellor Karl Nehammer, meaning it will take effect the next day.
Roughly 69% of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe, which the conservative-led government says justifies the measure and its fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,109) for breaches.
There are, however, growing doubts that the mandate will be fully implemented since a record number of infections due to the highly contagious Omicron variant is increasing immunity among the population.
"The law is unconstitutional and not proportionate," Herbert Kickl, leader of the far-right and anti-vaccination Freedom Party, the only party in parliament to oppose the bill, said in a statement after Van der Bellen signed it.
Kickl has pledged to fight the measure in the courts. There are also weekly protests on Saturdays in Vienna against restrictions including the mandate, often attended by tens of thousands of people.
The mandate will be implemented in phases. There will be no checks until March 15, when police will start verifying the vaccination status of people they stop in their regular patrols. More thorough checks will begin at a later, unspecified date in a third phase once a vaccination register is up and running.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein has, however, added to confusion about the measure's enforcement by saying he hopes that third phase will not be necessary.
($1 = 0.8760 euros)
Source: Reuters / Reporting by Francois Murphy Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky