Austria’s parliament is due to vote Thursday on introducing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults, the first of its kind in Europe.
The mandate drawn up by the government would apply to all residents of Austria age 18 and over, with exemptions for pregnant women, individuals who for medical reasons can’t be vaccinated, and people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.
It appears assured of approval. Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s governing coalition, made up of his conservative Austrian People’s Party and the Greens, worked with two of the three opposition parties in parliament on the plan. The other opposition party, the far-right Freedom Party, vehemently opposes it.
The plan is for the vaccine mandate to become law at the beginning of February. To start with, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules.
From mid-March, police will start checking people’s vaccination status during routine checks; people who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked in writing to do so, and will be fined up to €600 (roughly $850 Cdn) if they don’t.
If authorities judge the country’s vaccination progress still to be insufficient, Nehammer says they would then send reminders to people who remain unvaccinated. If that still doesn’t work, people would be sent a vaccination appointment and fined if they don’t keep it. Officials hope they won’t need to use the last measure. Fines could reach €3,600 (more than $5,000 Cdn) if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.
The mandate is supposed to remain in place until the end of January 2024. An expert commission will report to the government and parliament every three months on vaccination progress.
The government originally intended for the mandate to apply to all residents 14 and over, but changed that to 18 during consultations with political opponents and others.
The Austrian government announced the plan for a universal vaccine mandate at the same time it imposed a since-lifted lockdown in November and amid concern that Austria’s vaccination rate was comparatively low for Western Europe. As of Wednesday, 71.8 per cent of the population of 8.9 million was considered fully vaccinated.
“All experts believe that we will need high overall immunity in the population next fall as well,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said Sunday.
“With this vaccine mandate, we will succeed in achieving these important additional percentage points in the vaccination rate.”
Some other European countries have introduced vaccine mandates for specific professional or age groups. Neighbouring Germany is considering a mandate for all, but it’s not yet clear whether, when and in what form that will go ahead.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.
For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.
You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick on Wednesday reported that a total of 123 people were in hospital with COVID-19 — a new high — with 11 of them in intensive care.
“The rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated and those who are over six months from their second dose,” the New Brunswick health department said in a statement.
The province, which had more than 1,600 people offer to volunteer after a call for assistance, also reported four additional deaths and 498 additional lab-confirmed cases.
Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday said hospitalizations had increased to 18, with four people in critical care. There were no additional deaths reported in the province, which saw 511 additional lab-confirmed cases.
In Nova Scotia, health officials on Wednesday reported three additional deaths. The province’s daily statement on COVID-19 also noted there are, “83 people in hospital who were admitted due to COVID-19 and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit.” That figure includes 12 people who were in intensive care units, the statement from health officials said.
The province, which sent students back to classrooms this week, also reported an additional 527 lab-confirmed cases.
Prince Edward Island on Wednesday reported its third COVID-19-related death. The province said the number of people in hospital being treated for COVID-19 stood at 10, with three of those people in ICU. The province also noted that two other people were in hospital with COVID-19 who were admitted for other reasons.
There were also 304 additional cases of COVID-19, island officials said.
In Central Canada, Quebec on Wednesday reported 88 additional deaths. The province’s daily COVID-19 situation report showed 3,425 hospitalizations, with 285 people in intensive care.
The province also reported an additional 6,123 lab-confirmed cases.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford is expected to make an announcement Thursday about a shift that would allow in-person dining in restaurants — with limited capacity.
The province on Wednesday reported 4,132 hospitalizations, with the provincial dashboard showing 589 people in intensive care units. Ontario health officials also reported an additional 60 deaths and 5,744 lab-confirmed cases.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Wednesday reported a total of 631 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 50 people in ICU. Health officials also reported 12 COVID-19-related deaths and 919 additional lab-confirmed cases.
In Saskatchewan, the province said the total number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stood at 199, with 21 people in intensive care. The province, which had no additional deaths to report on Wednesday, also saw an additional 1,223 lab-confirmed cases.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alberta increased to 1,101, health officials reported on Wednesday, with 108 in ICUs. The province also reported six additional deaths and 3,837 lab-confirmed cases.
Across the North, health officials in the Northwest Territories on Wednesday reported the first intensive care admission of the current Omicron-driven wave.
In Yukon, a spokesperson for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board said that people who believe they contracted COVID-19 at work will need a PCR test to make a workplace claim.
In British Columbia, health officials said Wednesday that hospitalizations had increased to 895, with 115 people in ICU. The daily COVID-19 brief from the province showed an additional 13 deaths and 2,387 lab-confirmed cases.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 338 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.
Infections continue to accelerate in the Americas, reaching new peaks, with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 deaths in the last week, the Pan American Health Organization said.
Mexico registered a record daily increase of more than 60,000 new cases, as the country steps up testing for the virus.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from Monday until after the approaching Lunar New Year, authorities said, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools.
In Europe, the Russian capital on Thursday reported a record pandemic high of 11,557 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours and the daily nationwide number of new infections also rose sharply to 38,850, authorities said.
Spain’s COVID-19 infection rate fell for the second day in a row on Wednesday after 11 weeks of surges to record highs, raising hope among health authorities that the frenetic spread of the Omicron variant may be slowing.
The rate as measured over the preceding 14 days fell to 3,286 cases per 100,000 people from Tuesday’s 3,306 and Wednesday’s record 3,397 cases, Health Minister Carolina Darias told a news conference. Tuesday’s drop was the first since Nov. 2, when the rate was below 50.
“It’s important to see whether the decline consolidates in the coming days, which, if confirmed, would indicate that we’ve reached the peak of this wave or are at least very, very close,” Darias said.
In Africa, health officials in South Africa on Wednesday reported an additional 4,322 cases and 156 deaths, though officials noted there was a backlog of deaths.
Due to the ongoing audit exercise by the National Department of Health (NDoH), there may be a backlog of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> mortality cases reported. Today, the NDoH reports 156 deaths and of these, 36 occurred in the past 24 – 48 hours. This brings the total fatalities to 93 707 to date.
Meanwhile, in Algeria, officials announced that elementary and secondary schools would be closed for a period of 10 days in the face of a wave of Omicron cases.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia reported two additional deaths and 5,591 additional cases of COVID-19. The country recently announced that as of Feb. 1, people will need to show proof of having a booster dose to get into certain public spaces, like malls and restaurants.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET