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Austria becomes first EU country to implement COVID vaccine mandate

While tens of thousands have demonstrated weekly against initiative, it is believed to have broad political support, leading to law’s approval by parliament, president

People wait in line to get vaccinvated against the COVID-19 virus as the compulsory COVID-19 vaccination starts in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)
People wait in line to get vaccinvated against the COVID-19 virus as the compulsory COVID-19 vaccination starts in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

VIENNA — Austria’s president on Friday signed a law making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all adults, a first in the European Union.

It applies to all adults, except pregnant women and those with a medical exemption. Those holding out can face fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,100) after mid-March following an “introductory phase.”

President Alexander Van der Bellen signed the law after parliament approved it, his office said. It is expected to take effect from Sunday, a day after it has been officially published.

Tens of thousands have demonstrated against mandatory vaccination in regular weekend rallies since the measure was announced in November.

But it has broad political support — with all parties except the far-right rallying behind it — in a bid to drive up the country’s vaccination rate.

Currently, 69 percent of Austrian residents have certificates that they are fully protected against the coronavirus — including a booster for those whose shots were more than six months ago.

Austria has to date seen more than 14,000 COVID-related deaths and close to 2 million cases in a population of nine million.

As elsewhere, Omicron has sent cases spiraling in recent weeks, but hospitals have not been overwhelmed so far.

Compulsory vaccinations against COVID are rare though Ecuador, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and Micronesia have introduced such schemes.

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