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Upper house of Austrian parliament approves vaccine mandate

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Austria’s planned COVID-19 vaccine mandate has been approved by the upper house of parliament, clearing one of the final hurdles before it can take effect

VIENNA — Austria’s planned COVID-19 vaccine mandate was approved by the upper house of parliament Thursday evening, clearing one of the final hurdles before it can take effect.

The chamber voted overwhelmingly in favor of the mandate, 47 to 12, following a vote in the lower chamber of parliament on Jan. 20. It will now be sent to President Alexander van der Bellen for signing.

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From mid-March, police will start checking people’s vaccination status during routine checks; those who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked to do so in writing, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($676) if they don’t.

Officials originally announced the mandate would take effect on Tuesday, Feb. 1, but the law still needed to be debated and approved by the upper house of parliament.

The news comes just as Austria plans to loosen many of its pandemic-related restrictions. Over the course of February, the country will ease restrictions on unvaccinated people entering shops, restaurants and other areas of public life from which they’ve been effectively barred since November.

Not all states will follow the national government’s lead, however: Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig announced Thursday that the capital will continue requiring proof of vaccination or recovery to enter restaurants.

After weeks of rapidly rising cases, Austria’s surge fuelled by the omicron variant of the virus shows some signs of slowing. The country reported 38,135 new infections on Wednesday, bringing its 7-day case rate down slightly to 2,597 per 100,000 inhabitants.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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