Austria, like much of the world, is struggling to convince unwilling citizens to get vaccinated against Covid-19 so the rest of the country can return to everyday life.
As the government prepares to impose a lockdown on unvaccinated people, one company has settled for an unlikely stimulus.
FunPalast, a brothel in the capital Vienna, has chosen to inject some enthusiasm — and Covid immunity — into its clientele by offering free entry to anyone willing to get the jab on the spot.
The brothel made international headlines this week after announcing it would be giving vouchers of 40 euros (about $46) – the entrance fee – to anyone who wants to get vaccinated at the pop-up clinic.
Christoph Lielacher, the CEO of FunPalast, said in a telephone interview with NBC News on Thursday that the initiative started as a clever “marketing idea” but has since become an “absolutely serious” operation.
According to Lielacher, almost 150 visitors to the brothel were vaccinated on Monday alone. NBC News has not verified the numbers.
“We have a perfect vaccination line. We have two doctors, we have nurses… We have a room where you get vaccinated and then we have a room where you can sit or lie down, so it’s no joke. It’s a perfect line for vaccination,” he said.
Those who want to get vaccinated at the brothel but aren’t interested in accessing the other services, he said, can instead use their vouchers for access to the site’s fitness center.
Prostitution in Austria is legal and regulated.
Lielacher said he has not yet been vaccinated himself due to hesitation about getting the shot, but that he requires all employees to be fully vaccinated and to be tested twice a week for Covid-19.
And now, he said, ensuring customers get the shot is vital for business as Austria introduces a new vaccine passport system that will allow anyone without proof of full vaccination access to a host of venues, including restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, cinemas. and brothels, will deny. .
Download the NBC News App for the latest news and politics
“Because we have the ‘2G’ rules in Austria (if you are not vaccinated) you have to stay at home,” he said, referring to the new passport system, which takes its name from the German words for “vaccinated” and “recovered.” ”
“No one can come to me if you are not vaccinated,” said Lielacher.
The vaccine mandate, announced last week, is being rolled out after a four-week transition period in which site entry will be permitted with proof of initial vaccination plus a negative PCR test.
The new rules come as the country has seen record numbers of cases this month, with nearly 12,000 new Covid cases on Thursday alone, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Covid-19 tracker.
On Friday, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that the country would introduce a lockdown for unvaccinated residents in two regions hard hit by the latest increase in cases.
From Monday, unvaccinated residents of Upper Austria and Salzburg will not be allowed to leave their homes except for essential purposes, such as buying groceries or visiting the doctor.
On Thursday, Schallenberg had also warned that similar lockdown rules for unvaccinated people could be applied nationwide if the number of Covid cases does not fall.
“I don’t see why two-thirds should lose their freedom because a third is in doubt,” he said, according to Austria’s news agency.
According to the European Union’s online vaccine tracker, more than 63 percent of the Austrian population has been fully vaccinated so far.
However, Schallenberg said the country’s vaccination rate was still “embarrassingly low” compared to other European countries.
For his part, Lielacher said he was concerned about getting any of the vaccines currently available in Austria, despite vaccines being considered safe and effective by health officials.
Still, Lielacher said he hoped others would get the shot to keep companies like his from suffering. FunPalast, which reopened in May after closing in November 2020, has already “lost maybe 50 percent of our money” over the course of the pandemic, he said.
He said he hopes the brothel’s vaccine initiative, which will take place every Monday for the next five weeks, will help change the situation.
Associated Press contributed.