The lower chamber of the Austrian Parliament approved a measure Thursday to make vaccines mandatory for all adults in the country, enforceable by fines of up to 3,600 euros, or approximately $4,000.
The MPs voted 137 to 33 to approve the mandate after seven hours of debate. Austrian residents aged 18 and over are required to be vaccine under the bill, with exceptions carved out for pregnant women, people with medical exemptions, and those who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, according to The Associated Press.
About 72% of the 8.9 million people in Austria were considered fully vaccinated as of Thursday.
“This is how we can manage to escape the cycle of opening and closing, of lockdowns,” Austria health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said before the vote. “That is why this law is so urgently needed right now.”
The mandate, which is the strictest of its kind in the European Union, is expected to be passed by the upper chamber and go into effect on Feb. 1.
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Each household in the country will receive a letter explaining the rules of the new mandate. Police will begin performing routine checks for people’s vaccination status in mid-March, and anyone who cannot produce proof of vaccination will be asked in writing to do so. If they do not comply, they could face fines of up to 600 euros.
If residents persist in refusing to get vaccinated, authorities will give them a mandatory vaccine appointment, and those who fail to show up for it will face further fines. If they complain in court, they will face potential fines of up to 3,600 euros up to four times per year.
Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, who opposed the measure, said, “I’m appalled, I’m stunned, I’m shaken and I’m shocked,” adding that the law is “nothing more than a huge blow to the freedoms of Austrians.”
Austria also laid aside 1.4 billion euros (or about $1.59 billion) for providing incentives to holdouts against the vaccine. Most of that sum will go toward a lottery program that offers residents a ticket for each vaccine they get, and every tenth ticket will win its recipient 500 euros.
The mandate is slated to remain in place until the end of January 2024.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.