Germany’s chancellor-to-be Olaf Scholz ‘backs mandatory Covid jabs’

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<span>Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA</span>
Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Germany’s chancellor-to-be, Olaf Scholz, supports making vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory, German media have reported, as neighbouring Austria is debating how to enforce obligatory jabs from February.

Scholz, a Social Democrat, who is expected to be sworn in as Angela Merkel’s successor in the coming week, reportedly told a meeting of regional leaders he was in favour of a cross-party initiative to make vaccines mandatory, as well as requiring customers at non-essential stores to show proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus.

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“As a delegate I would certainly vote in favour, to make that very clear,” Der Spiegel reported Scholz as saying. The outgoing finance minister proposed a general vaccine mandate coming into effect from the end of February, by which everyone should have had a theoretical chance to receive two doses of vaccine of their own accord.

Meanwhile, Germany’s southern neighbour Austria announced it is pushing ahead with plans to make vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory among its wider population from February, after consulting scientists and legal experts.

“We didn’t want a vaccine mandate, let me make that explicit,” said the minister for EU and constitutional affairs, Karoline Edtstadler. “But 20 months on from the start of the pandemic we are in a situation that is dramatic if you look at intensive care units at hospitals.”

People walk through a closed Christmas market n Vienna, Austria
People walk through a closed Christmas market in Vienna, Austria, on Tuesday. Photograph: Lisa Leutner/AP

Only a general vaccine mandate would get the country closer to its goal of avoiding a fifth or sixth wave of the virus, said Edtstadler, of the conservative Austrian People’s party (ÖVP).

Austria is halfway through a 20-day lockdown, its fourth of the pandemic, after experiencing one of the steepest surges in cases in Europe. The chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, announced on 19 November that his government would prepare the ground for vaccination against Covid-19 to become mandatory from 1 February, which would make it the first country in the west to take such a step.

“Of course, it represents an intrusion into our basic and civil liberties” which is why the government had set up discussions with the centre-left Social Democratic party of Austria (SPÖ) and the New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS), the health minister, Wolfgang Mückstein, said. The far-right Freedom party (FPÖ), which is seeking to challenge the vaccine mandate legally, was not invited.

A draft law will not be presented until the week of 6 December, but several politicians have signalled that vaccination would be made mandatory but not compulsory, meaning no one would be forcibly injected.

Related: Austria is showing that vaccine mandates are no longer unthinkable | Liam Hoare

Constitutional lawyers have advised making vaccination mandatory for anyone over 14, which is the age of criminal responsibility in Austria. One report in Die Presse newspaper suggested it could be mandatory from 12, with exceptions for those who are advised not to take the jab for underlying health reasons.

Those who refuse to be vaccinated would receive two warnings, followed in case of non-compliance by an administrative fine of €3,600 (£3,000), which could be issued twice. The government declined to comment on Tuesday about the details of the law mentioned in the press.

As of this week, 67% of Austria’s population are considered fully vaccinated, and 70% have received one dose. In Germany, 68.5% of the population are fully vaccinated, while 71% have had one shot.

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