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Austria Recruiting Ex-Police Officers to Enforce Lockdown Restrictions

Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: January 17, 2022
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Police officers secure a protest march in Austria.The Austrian government is scheduled to launch a nationwide vaccination mandate in February, though the authority tasked with its implementation warned that April 1 is more likely. (Image: Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images)

Upper-Austria, a province in Austria that borders the Czech Republic and Germany, is reportedly hiring former police officers up to the age of 70 with the aim of using them to strengthen the enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions in the region. 

In late December, Governor Thomas Stelzer instructed the local police department to write a letter to 700 ex-officers, requesting that they come back for active duty.

“We have received feedback from 37 police officers who have been contacted, and they are now receiving their documents… Nobody has signed it yet, and admissions interviews have to be held,” the governor’s office told a local media outlet.

The ex-officers who join the government enforcement program will not be given police uniforms despite being considered to be in active service. They will be deployed for 39 hours per week. Retired state officials are also being contacted, with the local administration wanting some of them stationed as  COVID-19 rule inspectors in the province.

Austria’s lockdown restrictions are one of the most stringent in the world. People who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are barred from accessing a variety of amenities. Last week, the rules were even more tightened, with the government mandating every citizen entering a shop to be checked for proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19. 

Spot checks are being carried out by undercover police officers. FFP2 masks are now mandatory in outdoor areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. 

On Jan. 16, the government presented a revised COVID-19 vaccine mandate that will be applicable to all citizens aged 18 and above. The government had announced the potential vaccine mandate around two months back. 

Intended to come into effect by February, people who do not comply with the vaccination requirement could be fined up to 3,600 euros ($4,100).

The mandate will be implemented in multiple phases. In the first phase, authorities will inform every household about the mandate. Exemptions will apply for those who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection in the past six months, have medical complications, or are pregnant. 

Starting around the middle of March, police will begin checking people for proof of vaccination. If a person cannot provide such a proof, the police can charge a fine of up to 600 euros ($685). The unvaccinated individual can be subject to further pressure, which includes fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4106).

According to Karoline Edtstadler, the cabinet minister responsible for constitutional issues, individuals could be subject to such fines up to four times per year.

In an interview with ABC News, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein insisted that Austria will lag behind if it does not make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory. “All experts believe that we will need high overall immunity in the population next fall as well… With this vaccine mandate, we will succeed in achieving these important additional percentage points in the vaccination rate,” Mueckstein said. He warned that the omicron variant won’t be the last.

On Jan.8, thousands took to the streets of the Austrian capital to protest against the government’s plans for making vaccinations compulsory. At one rally in Vienna, protestors chanted the slogan, “The government must go.” 

In a protest march on Jan. 15, over 200,000 Austrians took to the streets. During a public consultation regarding the bill, the government received over 100,000 comments, most of which were in clear opposition to the vaccine mandate.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Chancellor Karl Nehammer argued for the mandatory vaccination plan. “I know there was a lot of speculation that this would be a half-hearted quasi-solution… The controls will have consequences… [Those who don’t comply] will face high fines,” Nehammer said.