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Austria suspends coronavirus vaccine mandate

by host

Austria is suspending its coronavirus vaccine mandate, the government said on Wednesday, effectively ditching a general requirement for adults to get jabbed against COVID-19 before even getting around to enforcing it.

The Alpine country became the first Western democracy to decide on making vaccination compulsory during a record-breaking wave of infections last November. No other European country has gone as far, although Italy does require people aged over 50 to be vaccinated.

The decision to impose the mandate was taken amid political instability, and the wrangling that ensued caused the measure that was finally adopted to be a clumsy combination of carrots and sticks. The vaccine mandate entered force a month ago but fines for noncompliance of up to €3,600 were only due to take effect from mid-March — and were never actually imposed.

The government has accepted the advice of an expert commission to suspend the vaccine mandate and will review the situation in three months, Die Presse quoted Constitutional Affairs Minister Karoline Edtstadler as saying.

The vaccine mandate sparked huge controversy in Austria, with the far right leading protests against the government’s pandemic management. Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein quit last week after 11 months in the job saying he had been the target of death threats.

Mückstein’s successor, Johannes Rauch, is only in his second day on the job: “I know this pandemic is getting on everyone’s nerves, in Austria and worldwide,” he said. “But vaccination is an effective way to fight it and we will continue on this path.”

Austria, with a population of nearly 9 million, has reported a total of 3 million COVID cases and 14,500 deaths. Its vaccination record is in line with the European average, with 72 percent of people receiving a full vaccine course.

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