Austria became on Saturday the first western democracy to impose a strict Covid-19 vaccine mandate for almost all its population.
The new measure, adopted on January 20 by Parliament, was signed into law by President Alexander Van der Bellen on Friday, the culmination of a process that began in November in the face of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Stiff fines for the unvaccinated in Austria
Non-vaccinated people are currently excluded from restaurants, sports and cultural venues. But from now on they will also be subject to fines.
The law applies to all adult residents with the exception of pregnant women, those who have contracted the virus within the past 180 days and those with medical exemptions.
Checks will begin from mid-March, with sanctions ranging from 600 to 3,600 euros ($690-$4,100).
They will, however, be lifted if the person fined gets vaccinated within two weeks.
Strong opposition to strict Covid-19 vaccine mandate
More than 60 percent of Austrians support the measure, according to a recent survey, but large swathes of the population remain strongly opposed.
For several weeks after the announcement of the new law, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against what they regard as a radical and draconian policy.
Critics have also questioned the need for compulsion given the far milder nature of the Omicron variant.
In neighboring Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz is also pushing for a vaccine mandate as part of the country’s Covid-19 containment strategy, and a key vote on a potential vaccine mandate is expected at the end of March.
Both Germany and Austria have higher vaccination rates than the European Union average of 70.4% with two jabs, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. But their immunization rate, of 74% and 72.7% respectively, has not assuaged the concerns of health officials.