(CNN) — The Austrian Parliament approved the strictest Covid-19 vaccination mandate in the European Union, which requires residents of the country over the age of 18 to be vaccinated.
The mandate will come into force on February 1, although Austrian officials will not start carrying out checks on compliance with the law until March 15. From then on, those who do not have a vaccination certificate or an exemption could be sanctioned with initial fines of 600 euros (about US$680) that could reach up to 3,600 euros (about US$4,080).
According to the website of the Austrian Ministry of Health, pregnant people and those who cannot be vaccinated without endangering their health are exempt from the law. Individuals recovering from a COVID-19 infection are also exempt for 180 days from the date they received their first positive COVID-19 PCR test result.
Lawmakers debated for more than seven hours in Parliament before the vote, in which 13 deputies did not participate. The norm was approved by 137 votes in favor and 33 against.
In addition to the introduction of the vaccination mandate, the Austrian government said Thursday that it would launch a national lottery to encourage those who are unsure about getting vaccinated against covid-19 to get vaccinated, and those who have already been vaccinated twice, to receive a booster injection.
“To put it bluntly, we have earmarked up to a billion euros for the vaccination lottery, which is based on reward and incentive,” Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer told a news conference hours before the vote in parliament. “I think it’s totally justified to spend this money.”
Nehammer said that Austrian citizens will receive one lottery ticket for each vaccine they have received, which means three tickets in total for those who have received the booster vaccine. The lottery means that every 10th ticket will win a gift voucher for US$568 (500 euros), the Austrian chancellor said.
Nehammer said Austria had learned from its previous successes, adding “we have seen that a vaccination lottery is the best possible way to set up such a system.”
Austria’s new vaccination mandate comes as the country records the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. This Wednesday, Austria registered 27,667 new infections in the last 24 hours, according to data from the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES).
The increase is due to the omicron variant, which became the dominant strain in the country in early January, according to the health agency.
The Austrian government says it wants to avoid another lockdown, as the Alpine country came out of its fourth lockdown in December last year.
How does the legislation that Austria passed work?
The new law will last until January 31, 2024 and will be applied in stages, according to the Ministry of Health.
All Austrian households will receive a letter explaining the mandate.
Officials will be able to search a national database for each resident’s vaccination status, or the date they are due to be vaccinated.
Unvaccinated people will eventually face the maximum fine of 3,600 euros ($4,000) up to four times a year if they are not listed on the vaccination record on their assigned vaccination date.
The authorities can waive the fine if the person is vaccinated within two weeks of receiving the sanction notice.
The law is one of the most punitive measures adopted by Western lawmakers in recent months as they seek to curb the socioeconomic burdens of the pandemic.
France is also cracking down on the unvaccinated. The French government recently passed a bill requiring people to prove they are fully vaccinated in order to access a wide range of everyday activities, such as visiting restaurants and bars and taking long-distance public transport between regions.
Italy has required everyone over 50 to get vaccinated or risk a fine, and Germany requires anyone who hasn’t received their booster to show negative results of a Covid-19 test before entering public places.