Austria makes vaccines mandatory, Europe’s cases spike high, Germany admits Christmas shutdown more likely
Austria has become the first Western country to make Covid vaccines mandatory amid a brutal wave of virus, from February 1 everyone will need to be jabbed or else face unspecified ‘penalties’, the chancellor has said.
According to Dailymail, Alexander Schallenberg said that ‘for too long the government assumed herd immunity could be achieved voluntarily and that it is now time to ‘face up to reality’ by requiring people to protect themselves
Health Minister Wolfgang Muckstein said the government has consulted with constitutional lawyers who believe the move is legal, but said there will be a ‘proper review period’ before the law comes into force. Mr Schallenberg added that violators will likely face fines rather than criminal penalties, but that details still need to be fleshed out.
Austria’s fully-jabbed rate currently stands at 66 percent, slightly above the European average of 62 percent but below the theoretical level of 70 percent needed for herd immunity. It reported 15,809 new cases Friday – another one-day record – with an infection rate of 990.7 per 100,000 over the last week, one of Europe’s highest.
It is not the first country to make vaccines mandatory. Indonesia required all adults to get jabbed back in February, followed by dictatorships Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in July. Dozens of other countries require specific groups to have jabs. Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate requires workers at any US firm with more than 100 employees to get jabbed, or else test on a weekly basis.
Speaking today, Schallenberg said: ‘For a long time there was consensus in this country that we do not want vaccinations to be compulsory. For a long time, maybe too long, it was assumed that it would be possible to achieve a high vaccination rate even without an obligation. Now we have to face reality.
‘Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many among us didn’t get vaccinated. The results are overcrowded intensive care units and enormous suffering,’ he added, accusing the un-jabbed of launching an ‘attack on the health system.’
The move is likely to prove hugely controversial, coming after Austria locked down only unvaccinated people in a move dubbed ‘health apartheid’. That was today scrapped in favour of a full lockdown, with everyone banned from leaving their homes except for ‘essential’ reasons starting Monday. It is due to last at least 20 days.
Europe’s Covid cases hit an all-time high, with 310,000 infections logged Wednesday – higher than the previous one-day record of 290,000 registered around this time last year
German health minister Jens Spahn said he ‘can’t rule out’ a full lockdown over the Christmas period, adding that the country is in a ‘state of emergency’ with cases rising rapidly
Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said 30million vaccines need to be given before the end of the year, meaning the country will have to more than double its current jab rate
The head of Germany’s disease control agency called for all bars to close, big events to be cancelled and private contacts to be limited to slow the spread of the virus
Bavaria, one of the hardest-hit German regions, cancelled its popular Christmas markets while regions with hotspot areas ordered to shut bars, restaurants, sports, and cultural facilities
Ireland put its hospitals on a ‘war footing’ for the next fortnight, warning doctors they may have to make ‘unthinkable’ choices about who to treat if intensive care units overflow
Italy said it will tighten its own Covid rules starting next week and it is ‘inevitable’ that the unvaccinated will be hit harder than the vaccinated
Austria is among the European nations worst-affected by the new wave of Covid, with infections soaring rapidly even as cases rise across most nations on the continent. Generally, those with the lowest vaccination rates are being hit hardest
A sign at an Austrian Covid market outlines rules for guests, who must obtain a wristband by showing a valid Covid passport to a ticket office before they can purchase gifts or food. Guests are also advised to avoid crowds and told to register their presence using a QR code if they plan to stay longer than 15 minutes
Austrians visiting a Christmas market in Salzburg queue up at a ticket booth to receive a wristband by displaying a valid Covid pass, which is required to make purchases at the market
Austria’s vaccine mandate: Is it legal?
The two foundational texts dictating the rights of citizens in Austria are the 1867 Act on the General Rights of Citizens for the Kingdoms and Countries Represented in the Imperial Council and the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights.
Neither act specifically outlaws mandatory medical procedures, however, they do contain several clauses that could be interpreted as outlawing them – depending on how Austria’s new law is constructed.
For example, the 1867 act guarantees everyone ‘full freedom of belief and conscience’ that gives people the right to choose their religious and political beliefs and live their lives accordingly.
Meanwhile, the European Convention contains Article 8 which guarantees a ‘right to family and private life’ that is free from state interference.
Article 9 gives people the right to ‘freedom of conscience and religion’, and practices associated with those beliefs, and Article 10 guarantees the ‘right to freedom of expression’.
However, top constitutional lawyers in Austria have said the law the government is considering – which is likely to fine people who refuse to be vaccinated – is unlikely to violate the 1867 act.
This is because the law would not directly force people to undergo the procedure, but would instead impose non-criminal penalties on those who choose not to.
Irmgard Griss, former President of the Supreme Court and candidate for the Federal Presidency, told Der Standard that it is also legally possible ‘to restrict the freedom of the individual if it is necessary to protect the health of the population.’
Meinhard Lukas, a top constitutional law specialist at the Johannes Kepler University, added that there is ‘no constitutional expert and no legal scientist who is of the opinion that such a general compulsory vaccination is unconstitutional.’
It is unclear whether the European Court of Human Rights would come to the same conclusion, but a recent ruling in a case brought by parents in the Czech Republic provides clues.
In April this year, the court was asked to decide whether it was legal for Czech preschools to deny places to unvaccinated children and whether the government could fine parents who failed to vaccinate their children.
The court was asked specifically to look at whether the mandate violated Article 8 and Article 9 of the ECHR.
Judges ruled 16-1 that the vaccine mandate may have violated Article 8, the right to private life, but pointed to an exemption for actions ‘necessary in a democratic society’ – saying vaccines fall into this category.
The judges found that Article 9, right to freedom of belief, had not been violated because the opinions expressed by the parents were not coherent enough to constitute a belief system as defined in the law.
The fourth wave of infections has plunged Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a national emergency, Health Minister Jens Spahn said. He urged people to reduce their social contacts, warning that vaccinations alone would not reduce case numbers.
Asked if Germany could rule out an Austrian-style full lockdown, Spahn said: ‘We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out.
‘We are in a national emergency,’ he told a news conference.
Ireland, which imposed a night-time curfew on hospitality businesses this week, has today placed its hospitals on a ‘war footing’ with routine operations cancelled to make room for Covid patients amid a warning from the country’s top doctor that intensive care medics face ‘unthinkable’ choices over who to give care to.
And Germany’s incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz said almost 30 million vaccines need to be administered before the end of the year to ward off the worst effects of the winter wave, which would require the country to more-than double the number of shots it currently gives each day.
He spoke a day after Germany put forward new rules that would restrict the movements of unvaccinated people in states where hospital admissions are high.
The new three-tier system would require people to show evidence of vaccination or previous infection to enter public buildings or businesses in states where hospitalisation rates go above 3 in 100,000 people, based on a seven-day average. At present, that will affect 9 of Germany’s 16 states.
Once hospitalisation rates top 6 in 100,000, measures tighten again – with negative tests required in addition to vaccines or previous infections to enter high-risk businesses such as clubs and bars. At present, Bavaria would be the only state affected through Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is a borderline case.
And once the rate goes above 9 in 100,000, regions would go into a more general lockdown with social distancing measures becoming mandatory along with other curbs similar to last winter. Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia have already exceeded this threshold.
Country-wide measures will include evidence of vaccine, infection or a negative test to use public transport, with vaccines made mandatory for heath workers.
The measures were passed by the Bundestag on Thursday following a meeting between the federal government and regional leaders. The Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, is due to vote on them today.
Meanwhile, Italy became the latest country to target the unvaccinated for lockdown, with a government spokesman saying it is ‘inevitable’ they will face harsher restrictions when a new decree is published next week.
The statement came following a meeting between health minister Roberto Speranza and undersecretary of state Roberto Garofoli on Thursday, who agreed the countrys’ outbreak is worsening and action is needed to tackle it.
Regional Affairs Mariastella Gelmini declared that there ‘is no desire to divide the country’ but added ‘if the increase in infections and hospitalizations were to lead to new restrictions, it would not be conceivable to put the vaccinated and the unvaccinated on the same level.’
The Czech Republic has already followed Austria’s lead by banning unjabbed people from access to public events, bars and restaurants from next week.
And Slovakia is also considering imposing a similar measure which would see unvaccinated people banned from non-essential stores, shopping malls, gyms, pools, hotels, and mass public gatherings for at least three weeks after recording 8,342 daily cases.
Earlier this week, Belgium made facemasks compulsory and introduced working from home instructions.
Austria reported 15,145 cases on Thursday, a new one-day record for the pandemic and well above the previous record of 9,586 that was logged a year ago.
The hardest-hit region has been Upper Austria, where the governor today called for restrictions on the un-jabbed to be scrapped – but only so that a full nationwide lockdown can be imposed instead.
In Belgium, all people in indoor venues such as cafes and restaurants will need to wear a mask unless seated and the rule will apply to those aged 10 or older. The previous age threshold was 12.
Nightclubs may have to test their guests if they want to let them dance mask-free. People wanting to eat in a restaurant or go to the theatre already must present a COVID pass, showing vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery.
Most Belgians will also have to work from home four days a week until mid-December, and for three days after that.
Belgium has one of the highest cases per capita rates in the European Union, behind only the Baltic and former Yugoslav nations and Austria, at around one per hundred people over the past 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.