Austria has come closer to enacting a mandatory vaccination law after the lower chamber of parliament approved revised government plans.
The bill, which will take effect on February 1, would make Austria the first European country to require vaccinations.
Adults who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 will face fines of up to €3,600 (£2,994) starting in mid-March.
Vaccination against the virus has been completed in 72 percent of Austrians thus far.
The bill now has to pass the upper house and be signed into law by President Alexander Van der Bellen, both of which are mostly formalities.
The vaccine edict will be in effect until January 2024, with the government investing €1.4 billion in steps to encourage unvaccinated persons to become vaccinated.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, speaking to MPs on Thursday afternoon, described the legislation as a “significant and, for the first time, also long-term step” in Austria’s fight against the epidemic.
Prior to the vote, Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters that vaccinations were “an opportunity for our society to attain enduring and continuing freedom, because the virus cannot confine us any more.”
By 137 votes to 33, a majority of MPs, including those from Mr. Nehammer’s ruling center-right coalition and the three main opposition parties, endorsed the bill.
The far-right Freedom Party, which has courted Austria’s significant anti-vaccine minority, has spoken out against the law.
Herbert Kickl, the party’s head, claimed the mandate “paves the road to tyranny in Austria” and promised to continue refusing vaccination in defiance of the new legislation.
Since officials revealed their intention to implement the mandate in November, frequent protests have taken place in Vienna, with some gathering over 40,000 people.
Anti-vaccine activists and far-right extremists have joined the protests, and officials have warned that they have become more radical in recent weeks, with additional “protective zones” designated around healthcare institutions and vaccination centers to safeguard personnel.
Vaccine mandates are being implemented in a number of other countries, including Greece, where vaccinations are now required for everyone over the age of 60.
In neighboring Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s new cabinet has announced that a vaccine law would be introduced in the Bundestag in March.
Austria’s decision comes as other European countries continue to lift restrictions imposed in response to the highly contagious Omicron variety.
On January 26th, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom announced the abolition of required face coverings in public places and Covid passports.
Mr Johnson also hinted that, by the end of March, the government intended to replace the legal obligation for anyone who tested positive for Covid to self-isolate with counseling and guidance.
The Irish government is also expected to lift a slew of coronavirus restrictions imposed over the holiday season, including measures requiring hospitality establishments to close by 20:00.
In the Netherlands, 30 mayors, including Amsterdam’s Femke Halsema, have encouraged Prime Minister Mark Rutte to ease tight regulations since hospitalizations and fatalities have decreased.