While its government prepares to impose a lockdown for the unvaccinated, one business has settled on an unlikely incentive.
FunPalast, a brothel in the capital Vienna, has opted to inject some enthusiasm — and Covid immunity — into its clientele by offering free access to anyone willing to get the jab on-site.
The brothel made international headlines this week after announcing it would be giving vouchers of 40 Euros (about $46) — the cost of entry — to anyone willing to get vaccinated at its pop-up clinic.
Speaking with NBC News in a phone interview on Thursday, Christoph Lielacher, FunPalast’s chief executive, said the initiative started out as a clever “marketing idea,” but has since become an “absolutely serious” operation.
Nearly 150 visitors at the brothel were vaccinated on Monday alone, according to Lielacher. 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 are vaccinated and afterwards, we have a room where you can sit down or lie down, so it’s not a 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 its 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 is not yet vaccinated himself due to hesitancy around getting the jab, but that he requires all workers to be fully vaccinated and to get tested for Covid-19 twice a week.
And now, he said, ensuring customers get the jab is vital for business as Austria introduces a new vaccine passport system that will block anyone without proof of full vaccination from entering a host of venues, including restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, cinemas — and brothels.
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“Because we have in Austria the ‘2G’ rules (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.”
“Nobody is able to come to me if you have no vaccination,” Lielacher said.
The vaccine mandate, which was announced last week, is being rolled out following a four-week transition period during which venue entry will be allowed with proof of a first vaccination plus a negative PCR test.
The new rules come as the country has seen record-high cases this month, with nearly 12,000 new Covid cases identified on Thursday alone, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Covid-19 tracker.
On Friday, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that the country would be implementing a lockdown for unvaccinated residents in two regions that have been hard-hit by the latest surge in cases.
Starting Monday, unvaccinated residents in Upper Austria and Salzburg will be barred from leaving 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 the unvaccinated could be applied nationwide if Covid case numbers do not come down.
“I don’t see why two-thirds should lose their freedom because one-third is dithering,”he said, according to the Austria Press Agency.
So far, more than 63 percent of Austria’s population have been fully vaccinated, according to the European Union’s online vaccine tracker.
However, Schallenberg said the country’s vaccination rate was still “shamefully low” compared to other European countries.
For his part, Lielacher said he felt anxious about getting any of the vaccines currently available in Austria, despite vaccines being deemed safe and effective by health officials.
Still, Lielacher said he hoped others would get the jab to prevent businesses like his own 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 hoped the brothel’s vaccine initiative, which will be running every Monday for at least the next five weeks, will help turn things around.
Associated Press contributed.