Austria starts lottery to increase support for vaccine mandate

Austrian lawmakers have passed the European Union’s first law mandating coronavirus vaccinations as other member states ease restrictions amid the latest wave of the pandemic.

The lower house of parliament approved the policy on Thursday with additional support from most deputies in two opposition groups. The far-right PVV rejected the plan.

The mandate comes into effect next month and officials will impose fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,084) for dissenters from mid-March. The government will also introduce a lottery system to reward people who want to take the shot.

After months of preparation, Austria is pushing ahead with a policy that goes beyond other countries’ efforts to convince people to get vaccinated. It has enforced some of the strictest restrictions in the latest wave of the virus, including a nationwide lockdown in November that will remain in effect for the unvaccinated.
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Some European countries have eased their policies with the spread of the ommicron variety, which has caused a rising infection rate but fewer hospital admissions. The UK will end requirements for a Covid pass or face masks next week and the Netherlands ended a strict lockdown earlier this week.

Protesters gathered in central Vienna during Thursday’s debate, marching along a major avenue, after demonstrations that have drawn tens of thousands in recent weeks. Police cleared a security zone around parliament.

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Herbert Kickl, the leader of the Freedom Party, promised not to stay vaccinated.

Despite possible difficulties in implementing the mandate, the government hopes to further increase the vaccination coverage of about 72% of the population.

It will now be a carrot-and-stick approach, announcing a raffle for the vaccinated with 500 euros ($568) valid for hotels, restaurants and other services. Municipalities also receive progressive government contributions after vaccination percentages of 80%, 85% and 90% have been achieved, respectively.

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