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Austria on Thursday unveiled how it intends to ensure people comply with the government’s mandatory vaccination strategy. Anyone over 14 who refuses to get their shot faces fines of up to €3,600 every three months, and some locals have reacted in despair. Tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital Vienna on Saturday, and one resident called the whole approach an “audacity”.
Police said an estimated 44,000 people attended the demonstration in Vienna on the weekend.
Among the many protest signs, one reading “No to vaccine fascism” stood out.
Another one had “I’m fighting for freedom and against the vaccine” written on it.
Alexander Steiner told Express.co.uk: “For nearly two years now, the world has been in a health hazard situation that in retrospect has presumably gone in the completely wrong direction.
“Despite desperate global attempts to fight the pandemic, we are now, worldwide, in a situation worse than ever before.”
The 65-year-old architect, who caught coronavirus last spring and is not vaccinated, said based on the steps taken since the start of the pandemic, Austria’s compulsory vaccination policy is hardly surprising.
Austria’s vaccine mandate has caused uproar across the country
Speaking of the conservative-led government’s latest move, he claimed: “I believe the Austrian Federal Government — in accordance with an EU-wide and global approach — has had no other option than to take in to this basically disastrous course of action.
“Because some do not want to undergo vaccination, they have decided they ‘must’ make these sections of the population see reason…
“How? Through compulsory vaccination.”
Roughly 68 percent of Austria’s population of nine million is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.
In mid-November, infections reached a record high, leading to the return to a national lockdown, the fourth since the start of the pandemic.
It was then that the first mention of compulsory vaccinations came.
The minister for constitutional affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, told a news conference with Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein: “We do not want to punish people who are not vaccinated.
“We want to win them over and convince them to get vaccinated.”
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But they couldn’t convince them.
The health minister said from February 1, 2022, there will be quarterly vaccination deadlines, and authorities will consult a central vaccination register to check if members of the public are in it.
The government claimed nobody will be vaccinated by force. However, those not found in the register will be fined.
Mr Mueckstein stated: “In regular proceedings, the amount of the fine is €3,600.
“As an alternative, the authorities have the option to impose a fine in shorter proceedings immediately after the vaccination deadline. Here the amount of the fine is €600.”
In the eyes of Austrian consultant Andreas Beikircher, this is “an attack on personal rights”.
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‘#Freedom’: Some 44,000 people protested in Vienna on Saturday
He told Express.co.uk “In my opinion, this is medically unjustifiable.
“I view it as an attempt to keep people busy. When people are busy, you can do completely different stuff in the background.”
About how a nation the size of Austria, usually not on the global focus, might be setting a precedent in the handling of the pandemic, Mr Beikircher said it is precisely its size that is enabling it: “I think it’s just a test balloon because Austria is a small country.”
The vaccine mandate, due to last through January 2024, must still be approved by parliament.
With two opposition parties supporting it, it is thought it will pass easily.
Mr Steiner, though fully against vaccination enforcement, sees fines as the obvious way to proceed.
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He said: “The punishment for non-compliance is the logical consequence; a complaint against it would be a joke.
“What I do find an audacity is that natural immunisation is not an all-encompassing exception to the compulsory vaccination.”
Two exemptions apply to Austria’s scheme – pregnancy and health barriers.
Mr Steiner thinks natural immunisation should be added to the list.
Saying he is shielded by his antibodies, he finds it “ignorant” that he is expected to get vaccinated while being “protected in this way”.
He claimed: “I am in intense protest against this ignorance of an immunisation that I consider of very good quality and I will certainly not bow to the pressures of the legislature.”
He admitted, nevertheless, this is “easy talking” for him: “Thank God the disease reached me at a time and to an extent that brought about a favourable framework of conditions.
“Personally, it is important for me not to protect myself from a new infection around the clock as I would rather keep my immune system ‘on the go’.”
Mr Beikircher, on similar lines, added: “When you have recovered you have the best antibodies because they are naturally much more flexible and can better adapt to mutations.”
What is most striking to him in the way things are playing out is “how easy it is to divide the population”.
He said: “Psychologically, it’s been well regulated. There are hardly any resistance groups.”
And the views of those who resist the implemented guidelines, he claimed, “are dubbed a conspiracy theory”.
Alexander Steiner’s name has been changed.