Coronavirus: Chaos and confusion as Austria’s borders reopen

Long lines of cars snaked along Austria's frontier with Slovakia Thursday after it lifted coronavirus-related border controls but motorists found they still faced lengthy checks on the Slovakian side.

Coronavirus: Chaos and confusion as Austria's borders reopen
Police on the Austria - Slovakia border. Picture: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Vienna on Wednesday announced it was lifting the restrictions at its land borders at midnight, except on the Italian frontier. Many European countries have said they will be following suit in the coming weeks and relax travel restrictions imposed at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Since yesterday, the news that Austria has lifted its controls is in all our media,” said a cyclist from Bratislava, surprised that Slovak authorities were stopping him at the Berg border crossing.

A Slovak police officer at the crossing, which is surrounded by fields, said vehicles had been gathering on Thursday for the first time in weeks.

Police on the Austria – Slovakia border. Picture: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

But some of those wanting to leave Austria fell foul of rules still in force in Slovakia. Anyone entering the country needs to show they have recently tested negative for the coronavirus or undergo a mandatory two-week quarantine.

The only way to avoid quarantine is to produce a document proving they have spent less than 48 hours outside Slovakia — handy for those who want to nip across to visit family or shop in Austria.

“Too bad! I will come back when it is fully open,” said Lazlo Turkazavo, who lives in Austria and wanted to go to Slovakia but decided to turn around after crossing proved more complicated than he had expected.

As for Slovaks who work in Austria, they are still waiting for trains and buses to resume full service. Some of them could be seen crossing the border on foot, dragging heavy suitcases to load them into taxis on the Austrian side. 

'Ridiculous circus'

For now, some checks at the border are also still being applied by several of Austria's other neighbours.

Only Slovenia and Hungary have announced they will reciprocate the reopening from Friday and let in people travelling from Austria without checks.

Italy for its part has opened its borders for EU citizens, including Austrians. But Austria had not reciprocated, saying the virus was still too prevalent in its hard-hit southern neighbour.

Back at the Berg border crossing, getting the 48-hour pass from Slovak border guards required patience with a long line of cars stretched across the highway.

“All the countries reopen their borders and Slovakia continues this circus, it's ridiculous!”, a motorist told AFP through his car window.

On the Austrian side, a few hundred metres away, the customs building was once again deserted, and the mobile facilities that helped to administer health checks to motorists had disappeared.

This was the case at other entry points into Austria.

“As of midnight there are no longer any (coronavirus-related) controls at the border with Switzerland and Germany,” a Tyrol police official told AFP, noting “a noticeable increase in traffic” from Germany.

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EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

Austria's capital city Vienna has begun registration appointments for those who want to get a monkeypox vaccine. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

As of September 9th, people can make reservations for monkeypox vaccination in Vienna, authorities announced. It is possible to register for the vaccine using the health service line by calling 1450 or via the Impfservice website.

The City of Vienna has said the pre-registration is needed because all planning will be done through a central system due to a shortage of vaccines.

“Please understand that due to the vaccine shortage, we cannot offer preventive monkeypox vaccination to everyone interested. We can use the reservation platform to quickly allocate available appointments and contact interested parties as soon as there are more vaccines”, the authorities said.

After the registration, people will be contacted to book appointments on September 14th. The first available date will be September 19th.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Who should be vaccinated against monkeypox?

Vaccination of the general population is currently not recommended.

Preventive vaccination is only offered to health care workers with a very high risk of exposure to people with monkeypox (designated monkeypox departments/outpatient clinics/offices) and persons with individual risk behaviour (persons with frequently changing sexual contacts), the City of Vienna said.

The health authorities in Vienna also have a specific information sheet in English with more information on the disease.

Monkeypox is a notifiable disease caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus and which can cause a condition similar to smallpox but rarely deadly. People with immunodeficiencies, pregnant women and children are at risk of more severe symptoms.

The virus spreads from person to person through contact with infectious skin lesions, via air droplets through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other body fluids, and when having prolonged and close physical contact, e.g. through sexual intercourse.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Usually, the first symptoms show up 5 to 14 days (at the latest, 21 days) after exposure. These include fever, general exhaustion, headaches, muscle and body aches, gastrointestinal problems and frequently painfully swollen lymph nodes.

“If you have symptoms and have had contact with someone with monkeypox, you must self-isolate at once and call 1450. If you have a confirmed monkeypox infection, you need to stay in self-isolation until the last crust has fallen off”, the Austrian authorities added.