Austria, reeling from a steep increase in Covid-19 cases, has become the first country in Europe to make vaccination compulsory. Those who refuse without a reason accepted by the authorities will be hit with heavy fines and jail time if they refuse to pay.
A full national lockdown to combat the virus begins on Monday for ten days. People must be vaccinated by February 1. Those who cannot prove that they are either fully vaccinated or immune after a past infection will be able to leave home only to go to work, to buy groceries or to exercise.
The government says that the draconian measures are a last resort. However, it has failed to motivate people to get the jab, because of “too many political forces, flimsy vaccination opponents and fake news”, in the words of the Chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg.
“We have to look reality in the face,” he said at a news conference. “Despite months of work on persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated. “Increasing the vaccination rate durably is the only way of getting out of this vicious circle.”
The most recent figures show the incidence rate has soared to 1,049.9 cases per 100,000 people in the past week. The number of cases is running at about 16,000 per day, in a population of about 9 million. There have been about 11,500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. By comparison, the incidence rate in the UK is about 500 per 100,000.
The Telegraph (London) criticised the move:
the country’s entire adult population will have to submit to what is, after all, a compulsory medical procedure. There is bound to be significant resistance and it is not clear how exactly it will be enforced. Many Austrians will feel that it infringes on their individual rights, not least to privacy. There is also a danger that compulsion by the state will undermine faith in the benefits of vaccination in general. Vienna is to take two months to work out the legal technicalities of its plan; its time would be put to better use finding more productive ways to promote vaccine uptake.
The Economist noted that “Germany, Austria and Switzerland have the highest shares of unvaccinated people in western Europe, bar tiny Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Most of their hold-outs vote for populist, far-right parties.”
“A federation of imbeciles has ensured that Germany is being hit extremely hard by the fourth wave—much worse than many other European countries,” said Der Spiegel.