Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in suit
Source: Getty | picture alliance

Austria Suspends Coronavirus Vaccine Mandate

Damir Mujezinovic - Author
By

Mar. 10 2022, Published 4:06 p.m. ET

Around four months ago, Austria became the first democratic country in the West to impose a universal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

The sweeping mandate would have fined all adults who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 with up to $4,000, or 3,600 euros.

Now, as it turns out, the mandate will be temporarily suspended.

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Karoline Edtstadler, the minister responsible for Austria’s constitutional affairs, described the mandate as "not proportionate," according to The New York Times.

Edtstadler said the mandate will be temporarily suspended, but noted that the legal framework will remain, in case a variant more dangerous than Omicron -- which reportedly causes relatively mild symptoms in most people -- emerges.

"Just as the virus is very agile, we need to be flexible and adaptable," Edtstadler argued at a press conference.

What Changed?

The mandate was first announced when Delta variant was dominant. At the time, more than 2,500 Austrians were hospitalized in intensive care units.

A lot has changed since then. Right now, just 200 patients are in intensive care.

Scientists believe this is due to the fact that Omicron is a lot milder than Delta. This apparently makes a difference even in countries where the vast majority of the population is vaccinated -- 74 percent of Austrians have received at least two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Per The New York Times, Austria's U-turn on vaccine mandates suggests that European governments are looking to approach the pandemic in a different way.

Additionally, Europeans now seem to be focused on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and not on the coronavirus pandemic.

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Mandate Protests

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The protest culture that emerge in Austria after the government decided to tackle COVID-19 appears to have contributed to the lifting of the mandate.

When the mandate was first announced, around 40,000 people took to the streets of Vienna. Initially large, the protest movement eventually slowed down, but a significant number of Austrians still remain opposed to lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and similar initiatives.

Leading Austrian politicians, meanwhile, have faced intense pressure from the public. In fact, Austria's health minister Wolfgang Mückstein resigned last week, citing threats to his personal safety.

COVID-19 In Europe

Most European countries have eased coronavirus restrictions, despite there being a major uptick in cases.

Nightclubs opened in France and Netherlands last month, as reported by The Guardian. Before that, England, Sweden, and Denmark also eased most restrictions.

European governments and health experts have, it seems, concluded that Omicron is much weaker and easier to deal with than Delta and other variants.

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