By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Parliament’s lower house voted in favor of a government proposal to make Austria the first European country to introduce a mandatory jab.
Under the law, which is due to come into effect February 1, unvaccinated adults against COVID- 19 face fines of up to 14,400 euros ($16,311) annually.
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 initially face fines of up to 600 euros. Residents persisting in refusing to get vaccinated will get a mandatory vaccine appointment, and those who fail to show up face further sanctions, authorities was warned. Austrians who complain in court could potentially be fined 3,600 euros up to four times per year, or 14,400 euros.
So far, 72 percent of Austrians have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
The bill must now pass the upper house and be signed into law by President Alexander Van der Bellen, but observers view that as formalities.
Authorities said the vaccine order is due to remain in force until January 2024, with the government investing 1.4 billion euros (nearly $1.6 billion) on measures encouraging the unvaccinated to receive the jab.
Addressing lawmakers, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called the measure a “big, and, for the first time, also lasting step” in Austria’s fight against the pandemic.
Chancellor Karl Nehammer said ahead of Thursday’s vote that vaccines were “an opportunity for our society to achieve lasting and continuous freedom because the virus cannot restrict us any further.”
The governing center-right coalition and the three main opposition parties backed the bill by 137 votes to 33. However, the far-right Freedom Party opposed the law. Party leader Herbert Kickl said, “I’m appalled, I’m stunned, I’m shaken, and I’m shocked.”
He added that the law is “nothing more than a huge blow to the freedoms of Austrians.” It comes while protestors fear other EU nations will follow Austria’s example and introduce similar vaccination mandates.
“There’s a massive movement going on in Europe right now of tons of people, hundreds of thousands, millions of people actually, who are very much aware of what’s at stake here,” said Dutch philosopher of law Eva Vlaardingerbroek.
“These people are aware of the fact that our constitutional rights are being set aside without an end date and that we’re heading towards a new system, a tyrannical regime of mass surveillance and control,” she stressed.
Vlaardingerbroek expressed concern about forced vaccinations linked to a COVID-19 vaccine certificate, and its related “European digital identity” are preparations for a Social Credit System.
The Social Credit System had been introduced in Communist-run China to monitor people, limiting access to everyday daily life to those with not enough credits, such as devoted Christians, critics, and minority groups.
“Basically, we already have a system in place right now that’s very close, or at least reminds of the beginning phases of a Social Credit System. We are literally turning into China,” Vlaardingerbroek warned in televised remarks.
It wasn’t clear Thursday whether the criticism would be enough to prevent other EU nations from introducing similar jab measures as in Austria.
French President Emanuel Macron, for instance, already said this month that he would make life difficult for those citizens who refuse a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I am not for bothering the French. I rant all day at the administration when it blocks them. Well, there, the unvaccinated, I really want to hassle them. And so, we will continue to do it until the end,” the French leader said in an interview.
And last month, the EU’s Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it'”appropriate” to discuss vaccine mandates. One-third of the EU’s population, or roughly 150 million people, is unvaccinated, she said, creating “an enormous health cost.”
Several EU countries already have COVID-19 vaccine certificates, necessary for travel or access to venues.
And Hungary’s government confirmed that another “booster jab” will be needed for a vaccination certificate to be valid starting from mid-February.
Hungary is among the countries with the highest claimed COVID-19 related death tolls, some 40,000 on a population of nearly 10 million. Most victims are elderly persons with underlying health conditions.
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