Austria has suspended a controversial law requiring adults in the country to be injected with the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. Officials argued that the law would infringe on fundamental rights had its implementation was not stopped.

Austrian Minister for the European Union and the Constitution Karoline Edtstadler told reporters during a March 9 press conference that the law represents “an encroachment of fundamental rights” that can no longer be justified. Thus, the law will no longer take effect – contrary to Vienna’s earlier assertion that the controversial measure will take effect by the middle of the month.

“After consultations with the Health Minister [Wolfgang Mueckstein], we have decided that we will, of course, follow what the [expert] commission has said. We see no need to actually implement this compulsory vaccination due to the [B11529 omicron] variant that we are predominantly experiencing here,” she said. Edtstadler added that the aforementioned commission, composed of health experts, will review the situation and the law in mid-June.

Details of the law were announced back in December of last year. Austrians rejecting the COVID-19 vaccine would face fines of up to €3,600 ($3,974) every three months – which equates to a monthly penalty of €1,200 ($1,324).

According to Mueckstein, officials can choose to fine erring individuals €600 ($662). He elaborated: “In regular proceedings, the amount of the fine is €3,600. As an alternative, the authorities have the option to impose a fine in shorter proceedings immediately after the vaccination deadline. Here, the amount is €600.”

Under the measure, Austrian authorities will write letters to unvaccinated persons ordering them to get the vaccine – with non-compliance meriting the larger fine. 

The mandate exempted pregnant women, those with a medical exemption for vaccination and those who recently recovered from a bout with COVID-19. It was signed into law in February and was set to take effect this month, until Edtstadler announced its suspension.

Suspension appears to align with general trend of bucking restrictions

Vienna’s decision to suspend the COVID-19 vaccine mandate appeared to align with the country’s lifting of various restrictions meant to curb the spread of infections. During a Feb. 16 press conference in the capital, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed the end of the measures. He added that the number of new COVID-19 cases becoming stable plays a huge part in the move.

Austria ended its vaccine passport mandate three days later on Feb. 19. Under the rule, Austrians no longer need to present proof of vaccination or recent recovery from COVID-19 to attend various activities and enter different establishments. A proof of a negative COVID-19 test would now suffice.

Nehammer added that most of the restrictions would end on March 5 as entry requirements and other restrictions would be lifted entirely. Nightlife in Austria would see a boost following the repeal of restrictions, as nightclubs are allowed to reopen and restaurants and bars can stay open beyond midnight.

The chancellor added that mask mandates will remain in place where absolutely necessary “to protect vulnerable groups.” Face coverings will remain compulsory for public transport, essential shops and pharmacies. Employees and visitors of healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes would be required to show at least one negative COVID-19 test result.

Tourism in Austria would also reopen following the repeal of restrictions. From March 5 onward, a negative COVID-19 test will suffice as proof for entering the country. Prior to the lifting, travelers were required to show either proof of vaccination with booster or recent recovery from COVID-19 and a negative test result.

Despite the more relaxed restrictions in Austria, Edtstadler remarked that the vaccine mandate might still be needed in the future. “I don’t think I need a crystal ball to tell you that today isn’t the last chapter we will write regarding the vaccination mandate,” she said.

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