Austria's Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said that 24 house searches had been carried out across the country resulting in investigation of 22 people for "forgery, use of falsified documents and fraud."
"The suspects are a heterogeneous group, there are no common characteristics other than the rejection of protective norms for the general public," the interior ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Officials say the suspects are all anti-vaccine activists who are accused of creating fake health certificates for themselves and their families.
A number of fake vaccine passes -- as well as mobile phones and computers -- were seized as part of the operation.
The investigation was launched after police officers infiltrated a group on the messaging platform Telegram. Austria set up a dedicated police group to combat the sale of fake vaccine certificates in April 2021 and authorities said around 1,100 cases in connection with forged COVID documents had been recorded since then.
Organized trade and the use of falsified vaccination certificates is “not a trivial offense, but a criminal act”, stressed the interior minister, who said he would “continue to take action against all people who use forged vaccination certificates”, particularly the counterfeiters and traders.
Austria has been grappling with high Covid-19 infection rates and a relatively low vaccine uptake among its population which authorities have blamed on the current Covid wave. About 66 per cent of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lower rates in Western Europe. Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccinations, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament.
In November, Austria became the first EU country to make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory as of February 1. The mandate has polarised public opinion on the radical move which would mean unvaccinated people could only leave their houses to buy essential supplies, exercise or seek medical care. On Wednesday, Italy announced it was making inoculation against Covid-19 for the over 50s.