Austria U-Turns on Vaccine Passports

Austria is due to start phasing out its Covid restrictions on February 19th, with almost all going on March 5th, although the Government hasn’t said whether it will now abandon plans to make vaccination mandatory, a law that was due to be enforced on March 15th. Reuters has more.

Austria will lift most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions by March 5th, including scrapping an earlier closing time of midnight for bars and restaurants and allowing nightclubs to reopen, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday.

The Government said the steps were being taken cautiously with daily new infections hovering below their record peak and a manageable situation in hospitals due to the smaller incidence of severe cases in the latest wave of the coronavirus, dominated by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The easing of curbs as Omicron has proven to be milder than earlier variants will deepen doubt about whether the Government will implement a recently enacted law making vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory – the first such measure in the European Union.

The law, due to be enforced from March 15th, has done little to raise one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe.

“On March 5th the bulk of the restrictions that so burden people will be lifted,” Nehammer told a news conference.

The Government recently announced that as of this Saturday unvaccinated people can return to restaurants and non-essential shops if they have been tested. Nehammer said such proof of testing, recovery or vaccination would also be scrapped and limits on the size of events would be lifted by March 5th.

It is up to Austria’s nine provinces to decide whether to retain tougher restrictions than those imposed by the federal Government, which the capital Vienna has generally done. Vienna has not allowed the unvaccinated to return to restaurants and the mayor was due to announce its position later on Wednesday.

The general requirement to enter Austria will be eased from proof of a booster jab to proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent test, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said.

On the vaccine mandate, a committee of experts on health and constitutional law that is to review its suitability will report to the Government before March 15th, Nehammer said, suggesting the measure could be done away with before fines are handed out.

According to Breitbart, not all restrictions will be lifted on March 5th.

Some rules will nevertheless remain in place, however, including the mandatory use of high-class FFP2 masks on public transport and in supermarkets.

The use of Covid certs will also be maintained with hospitals and nursing homes within the country, while entering Austria from abroad will also reportedly require either proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative Covid test.

You can read the rest of the Breitbart report here.

How it Feels to Be Unvaccinated in Austria as the Government Turns the Screws

I’m going to say it. I’m unvaccinated. There. I said it. That feels better.

I’m saying this now because for the last year in Austria, where I live, the hypocrisy, discrimination, and name-calling have risen to levels that we haven’t seen in a long, long time, certainly in my memory. That I choose not to get vaccinated is simply my choice and that’s it. I have never once suggested that anybody else should follow suit. I am writing this now because I am simply tired of repeating myself on a daily basis; tired of having to defend my decisions to people for whom my decisions are no business whatsoever. I am saying this now because:

  1. I routinely get reminded of the number of people in hospital. It’s a big number. There is no denying that. But, unless you are able to break that number down into the number of people in hospitals actually being treated for Covid and not something else, then that number means nothing. If you are able to break that number down into the number of people who are actually being treated for Covid, then try breaking it down further into the number who are obese, have pre-existing conditions and are of a certain age group. If you are unable to do any of the above, at least have some kind of empirical comparison such as the number of people in ICUs in 2018, 2016, 2012 etc. If you cannot do any of these, do not quote me a random set of digits which serve no purpose whatsoever other than to serve as fear propaganda.
  2. On a daily basis I get hit with the fact that the numbers of people getting infected with Omicron have surged. That’s a fact. There is no denying it. What is also a fact is that both the vaccinated and unvaccinated are catching it. Couple that with the fact that Pfizer is developing an Omicron vaccine, then you are getting closer to understanding my reason for not going out and getting the current vaccines which are available, as even Pfizer is tacitly acknowledging they’re not up to the job.
  3. Pfizer. How quickly we forget that the company which has a monopoly on vaccines in the European Union is also the same company which was forced to pay what is still the largest criminal fine in history. Couple that with the emerging news that the president of the European Commission was in a text message exchange with a head of Pfizer before sealing the deal which saw the European Union pay over €30 billion more than they should have for a drug. Couple that with the fact that many contracts between governments and Pfizer have dozens if not hundreds of pages redacted. Couple that again with Pfizer´s move to indemnify themselves from potential lawsuits resulting from vaccine complications, and then you are getting close to understanding my reason for not trusting this particular pharmaceutical company.
  4. The Greater Good. While the sentiment may be well-intended, the ‘greater good’ seems to surface only very selectively. Where was the ‘greater good’ in 2018 when the same ICUs were full of flu patients? Were we all railroading each other into getting flu shots? Where was the ‘greater good’ in 2009 when swine flu appeared? Did we don masks, close schools and chase down swine flu vaccines? Not that we should have done, of course.

In Austria, according to a recent survey, the vast majority of the population believe their Government to be corrupt. We have had four Prime Ministers in one year. In Vienna, if I have a negative test and no symptoms, I am still not allowed into a shoe shop to buy my three-year-old son a pair of shoes because the Government has decided that shoes are nonessential items. In fact, an unvaccinated person has not been granted access to hairdressers, cafés, bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and so on since late October. In order to continue earning a living, an unvaccinated person has had to provide a negative test every 48 hours. In the meantime, the vaccinated, who are not required to test, even if they have symptoms, have had free rein. And the numbers have continued to rise, and the unvaccinated blamed.

“Show Us the Data”: High Court Demands Austrian Government Justify COVID-19 Restrictions

Austria’s powerful Constitutional Court has demanded detailed data from the Government Health Ministry justifying the coronavirus response. has the story.

The 14-member court issued 10 sets of questions to the Health Ministry on January 26th in order to prepare for a “possible oral hearing” into a number of complaints it has received against Austria’s COVID-19 measures.

The Health Ministry has until February 18th to respond.

Austria plans to ease some restrictions from Tuesday as its nationwide vaccine mandate, the first in Europe, comes into effect.

But in order to justify his Government’s heavy-handed rules, the court has asked Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein to provide data across a broad range of topics including hospitalisations and deaths ‘with’ as opposed to ‘from’ COVID-19, the efficacy of masks and vaccines, and evidence supporting the now-rescinded ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’.

“The ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’ is likely to be based, among other things, on the consideration that persons without Covid vaccination have a higher risk of hospitalisation than vaccinated persons, which is likely to entail a higher risk for the healthcare system,” the court wrote.

“What is the effect of the ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated on the hospital burden, expressed in percentages?”

The court asked for information on which virus variants were associated with these numbers, a breakdown by age cohort, and for “percentage allocation” outlining where infections occurred, such as family, work, shopping or leisure activities.

Another question asked, “By what factor does wearing an FFP2 mask indoors or outdoors reduce the risk of infection or transmission?”

A number of other questions related to vaccines, with the court requesting data on their efficacy in reducing severe illness, preventing transmission, and the durability of protection.

“By what factor does Covid vaccination reduce the risk of severe disease?” the court wrote.

“In media reports, there was talk of up to 95%. Now, the general risk of dying from Covid-19 (not differentiated by age and health status) currently appears to be 0.1516%.

“What does a stated vaccination efficacy of, for example, 95% refer to? What do absolute and relative risk reduction mean in this context?”

The letter also requested the Covid-related hospitalisation risk over a one-year period for an unvaccinated 25-year-old compared with a double-vaccinated 25-year-old, and the same for a 65-year-old.

It concluded with a question about Austria’s excess mortality statistics.

In December, the Der Standard newspaper reported that there were one-third fewer COVID-19 deaths in 2021 compared with the previous year, but that weekly excess mortality was higher.

“Is this true?” the letter asked. “If so, what was the total excess mortality in 2021 that could not be explained by COVID-19 deaths, and what is the explanation for this excess mortality?”

Austria has seen record high case numbers in recent days, fuelled by the Omicron variant.

Good to see a high court taking a detailed interest in these technical questions, unlike our own largely supine and deferential judiciary. Also good to see an interest in the unexplained wave of non-Covid excess deaths this winter. The Government’s response will be interesting, as will the court’s ruling.

Worth reading in full.

Austria’s MPs Pass Mandatory Vaccination Law

Austria’s equivalent of the House of Commons voted yesterday in favour of the new Government proposals to fine the unvaccinated the equivalent of thousands of pounds. The BBC has more.

The law, which is due to come into effect on February 1st, would make Austria the first [i.e., only] European country to introduce a mandatory jab.

From mid-March the law will see adults unvaccinated against COVID-19 subjected to fines of up to €3,600 (£2,994).

So far, 72% of Austrians have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

The bill must now pass the upper house and be signed into law by President Alexander Van der Bellen, steps largely expected to be formalities.

The vaccine order is expected to remain in force until January 2024, with the government investing €1.4bn in measures designed to encourage unvaccinated people to come forward for the jab.

Addressing lawmakers on Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein called the measure a “big, and, for the first time, also lasting step” in Austria’s fight against the pandemic.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters ahead of the vote that vaccines were “an opportunity for our society to achieve lasting and continuous freedom, because the virus cannot restrict us any further”.

A majority of MPs, including those from Mr. Nehammer’s governing centre-right coalition and the three main opposition parties, backed the bill, by 137 votes to 33.

The far-right Freedom Party, which has courted the votes of Austria’s substantial anti-vaccine minority, has taken a stand against the bill.

Its leader, Herbert Kickl, said the mandate “paves the way to totalitarianism in Austria” and vowed he would continue to refuse vaccination in defiance of the new law.

Since authorities announced they intended to introduce the mandate in November the capital, Vienna, has seen regular protests, with some numbering over 40,000 people.

The demonstrations have attracted a coalition of anti-vaccine campaigners and far-right extremists, and authorities have warned that they have been radicalising in recent weeks, with new “protective zones” declared around healthcare facilities and vaccination centres to protect workers.

Similar vaccine mandates are being introduced in several other countries, including in Greece, where jabs are now obligatory for everyone aged 60.

In neighbouring Germany, the new Government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said it will introduce a vaccination bill in the Bundestag in March.

Alarming stuff. Have they learned nothing from history? Worth reading in full.

The BBC article links to an earlier article from last month where the BBC sets out three arguments in favour of forced vaccination (thanks Auntie) and three against. The three in favour include that we’ve tried everything else and it will supposedly “end the cycle of lockdowns” – right, like everything else governments have inflicted on us these past two years. The arguments against include that some people may not like it and, well, maybe we haven’t exhausted all our other options – so not balanced at all, and no mention of the crucial fact that the vaccines don’t prevent infection or transmission, or that the majority of new infections and deaths are in the vaccinated.

Anti-Lockdown Protests Erupt in York, Austria and the Netherlands

Thousands of anti-lockdown protestors have descended on the streets of York, Austria and the Netherlands as new Covid restrictions are imposed across Europe in response to the (seemingly harmless) Omicron variant. MailOnline has more.

No one has died with the new super mutant Omicron Covid variant despite the strain being spotted in 38 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed.

But world leaders have been implementing extra measures including large fines to encourage populations to get fully vaccinated.

In Austria, unvaccinated people who breach lockdown rules – which have been extended to December 11th – face fines of up to €500. Anyone refusing to comply with vaccination status checks could be fined up to €1,450.

In Vienna, thousands protested on Saturday against restrictions on public life designed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in York for a so-called ‘freedom protest’ and took part in musical performances in front of York Minster.

Meanwhile, several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to criticise new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.

Protesters walked through the streets carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Government has announced that all travellers to Britain will need to take a lateral flow or PCR Covid test 48 hours before departure from Tuesday. This is in spite of Grant Shapps ruling out pre-departure PCR tests yesterday. MailOnline has more.

Postcard From Austria

We’re publishing a postcard from Austria today by former academic Mark Foord describing the full horror of the Austrian Government’s recent shift to untrammelled authoritarianism. Here’s an extract:

A former colleague from Bonn insisted that “the Balkans begin in Austria”. She was hinting that for Germans, there was a slight whiff of the disorderly east about the place – too many rakish non-conformists and shady deals. I felt at home in that Austria. However, there is another Austria – a neuralgic, curtain twitching, obsessively orderly, dyspeptic place, obsequious and worshipping of authority.

Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve observed both Austrias: the Austria of stubborn transgression with the barn parties, impromptu gatherings around a crate of beer and a refusal not to enjoy life; and the other Austria of pandemic narks, tipping off the police about a game of farmyard horseshoes, or youths in the park doing what youths do. Beyond the caricatures, the situation is getting sinister. For months, the population have been saturated with angst filled news broadcasts claiming that the Austrian health system (one of the best resourced in the world) was on the verge of collapse. The press called for deeper and more stringent measures against the unvaccinated. A ‘new enemy within’ that might divert attention from the manifold failings of the Austrian political establishment to better prepare the health and social care system for winter.

The pandemic was reframed (against all evidence) as a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’. How that phrase flew. In the space of a few weeks there was a palpable mood change. Newspaper comment sections were stuffed with hateful diatribes about the unvaccinated; TV programmes made little attempt to understand the reasons why many people were reluctant to consider the new novel vaccines, despite their being evidence that many of the unvaccinated would be willing to accept one of the conventional vaccines in development (Novavax) or those already in use across the world (Sinovac). There was little objective coverage of emerging vaccine breakthroughs which might lead us to question whether vaccines remain the only way out of the pandemic. In this simple public morality tale, the unvaccinated were portrayed as the only barrier to taming the pandemic. Pressure grew for compulsory vaccination and on November 19th the Chancellor announced that Austria would become the first European state to introduce compulsory vaccinations, coming into force on February 1st 2022.

Worth reading in full.

The Religious Faith of European leaders in Vaccines Will End in the Imprisonment of the Unvaccinated

I’ve written a comment piece for Mail+ about the failure of vaccine passports and other restrictions on the unvaccinated to avert a Winter Covid crisis in Europe. The logic of the policy seems to be based on a wildly inflated estimate of the effectiveness of the vaccines – but instead of abandoning it when it clearly isn’t working, European governments just keep doubling down. Here is an extract:

In spite of the overwhelming evidence that vaccine passports are ineffective, a majority of the public still want the Government to bring them in. In a poll published yesterday, 58% of English adults said they’d support banning people from bars, restaurants and other public venues if they can’t produce evidence they’ve been double-jabbed or recently tested negative.

The reason for this may be because most people still think of the Covid vaccines as being more effective than they really are. When they were first rolled out, we were assured they offered almost complete protection against the virus.

“You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations,” said Joe Biden.

“Vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick,” said Dr Rochelle Walensky, a Director of the Centres for Disease Control.

“When people are vaccinated, they can feel safe that they are not going to get infected,” said Dr Anthony Fauci.

We now know that isn’t true. Vaccinated people can still catch COVID-19 and pass it on. The evidence suggests they are less likely to become severely ill or die for the disease, but even those benefits wear off over time, which is why the Government is urging people to get the booster.

If vaccinated people can transmit the virus, what is the point of banning the unvaccinated from bars, restaurants and other public places? You might as well ban people with ginger hair for all the good it will do.

Worth reading in full.

Austria Makes Covid Vaccines Mandatory

Austria has become the first country in Europe to make the Covid vaccine compulsory. From February 1st, all adults will be required to have the vaccine. Sky News has more.

The measure to make vaccination compulsory among the adult population will attract controversy, with Austria only the fourth country in the world to do so – after Indonesia, Micronesia and Turkmenistan.

[Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg] said: “Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many among us didn’t get vaccinated. The results are overcrowded intensive care units and enormous suffering.”

He said the government therefore took “a very difficult decision… that we will quickly introduce a nationwide vaccine mandate” from 1 February.

The nation had already introduced a series of strict measures along with Germany and Slovakia in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as a debate intensifies over whether vaccines alone are enough to tackle coronavirus.

Around 66% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Its infection rate is among the highest in the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people – and daily cases keep setting records.

The country of 8.9 million has reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily, while hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new Covid patients and deaths have also been rising again.

The national lockdown will initially last for 10 days, after which the effects will be assessed and the measures extended to a maximum of 20 days if cases have not gone down enough.

Two states in Austria – Salzburg and Upper Austria – had already triggered a range of restrictions, with the rules extended to apply to vaccinated people and a full lockdown from next week that would see schools shut and a curfew imposed.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: BBC News has more on this story.

Stop Press 2: Austria’s opposition leader – Herbert Kickl, leader of the right-wing populist FPO party – has said the country is now a dictatorship. MailOnline has more.

Austria Poised to Impose Full Lockdown

Shock! The lockdown of the unvaccinated made zero impact on rising case numbers in Austria so now the country is on the brink of imposing a full lockdown – not that that will make the slightest bit of difference either. The Telegraph has more.

Austria could become the first place in Europe to see full Covid lockdowns reintroduced since widespread vaccination campaigns were rolled out as the continent faces a wave of new restrictions amid a winter surge.

The country’s worst-hit provinces said they would adopt the measure for themselves since infections are still rising despite the current controversial lockdown for the unvaccinated.

Roughly 66% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people.

As winter approaches, cases have surged across Europe, prompting governments to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns. The Netherlands has imposed a partial lockdown that applies to all, but Austria has sought not to impose extra restrictions on the fully vaccinated.

Daily infections on Thursday reached a new record of 15,145. The biggest wave before this peaked at 9,586 a year ago, when Austria went into full lockdown. Hospitals in Austria are overloaded and there are unconfirmed reports of bodies being stored in the corridors.

Around Europe, nations are having to take action, including:

* The Netherlands could extend holidays over Christmas to slow a surge in cases among children.
* Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit record highs for the second straight day.
* Belgium has tightened its coronavirus restrictions in a last-ditch effort to avoid a full lockdown.

A German state has been forced to transfer coronavirus patients to Italy.

You can read more news updates on the Telegraph‘s site here.

Stop Press: MailOnline has more about the lockdowns being readied across Europe.