Austria’s coronavirus lockdown: Under what circumstances can I leave my apartment?

From exercise to visiting a friend, what am I allowed to do under Austria’s lockdown rules?

Austria’s coronavirus lockdown: Under what circumstances can I leave my apartment?
A man jogging during lockdown. Image: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP

Some parts of Austria have put in place ‘exit restrictions’, otherwise known as a curfew.

In some states this applies from 8pm to 6am, and in other states it applies for 24 hours a day. 

If this rule is in place in your part of Austria, you will not be allowed to leave the house, other than for a limited range of exceptions. 

READ: Everything you need to know about Austria’s coronavirus lockdown 

Leaving the house will only be permitted for the ‘necessary basic needs of life’. 

What are the ‘necessary basic needs of life’?

Under the rules, people will only be allowed to leave the house for the ‘necessary basic needs of life’. 

While these ‘needs’ are not expressly defined, the Austrian government has clarified what people are allowed to do on several occasions to include visiting close family and friends, go to the doctor, exercise, shopping and going to work. 

You are also permitted to leave the house to avert danger

Can I visit someone else in their home?

One area of confusion when the announcement was made related to contact restrictions. 

On Sunday evening, Austria’s Ministry of Health clarified the rules. 

As reported in Der Standard, the ‘one plus one’ rule applies. 

This means that only one individual is allowed to visit members of another household (regardless of the number of people in the household). 

One household will also be allowed to visit one individual in their private residence. 

This means that more than one member of one household is not allowed to meet several members of another household. 

Furthermore, the people visited must be “close family members” or “important contacts with whom contact is maintained several times a week”, rather than friends or acquaintances. 

Whether a person is defined as an “important contact” or not will depend on a case-by-case assessment, the government confirmed. 

What about if I live alone?

Another major source of confusion has been whether people who live alone are allowed to visit more than one person (i.e. in different households) for the duration of the lockdown. 

This is sometimes known in other countries as a ‘bubble’, with people having to stick to certain individuals that they can visit. 

Initially, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) said that people who live alone should determine just one person/household they plan on visiting during the lockdown, with visits restricted to just that person or household. 

However, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Sunday evening that this rule does not apply. 

As reported in Der Standard, it “is also clear that one does not have to define one or more individual people who one meets during the lockdown – they can be different people, provided they fall under the terms “closest relatives” or “important reference persons”.

Can my kids go to school? 

Generally, where a hard lockdown has been put in place, schools will be either closed or lessons will take place online, i.e. ‘distance learning’. 

Face-to-face attendance at schools is prohibited except to provide care to those who cannot be at home. 

The current rule is that “all children who can be cared for at home should stay home”. 

More information is available here

Can I go to work? 

Under the lockdown rules, “anyone who can work from home is required to do so.”

While the word “can” is unfortunately not defined – office workers can do their jobs from home but bakers are likely to find this more challenging – this is probably more a question for your boss than for the police. 

Let’s go shopping!

While shopping is allowed under the new rules, heading up to Vienna’s high streets for that new Hugo Boss suit jacket to look good on your next Zoom call is unfortunately no longer permitted. 

Shopping is allowed only for “basic goods” which is basically anything you can get from a supermarket or pharmacy. 

As of April 2021, a harder lockdown has been put in place in the country’s east.

In this case, residents of one Austrian state in hard lockdown are not allowed to travel to another state to go shopping. 

If there’s anything else you want, remember that it’s 2021 and you can order almost anything online. 

What kind of exercise can I do? 

From Tuesday, the same rules for exercise that were in force in spring will apply (for non-professional athletes). 

Team sports are of course off limits, however individual sports like running, cycling or walking is allowed. 

Vice Chancellor and Sports Minister Werner Kogler (Greens) said it was important for Austrians to “keep moving” but said all sport must be done alone. 

“Keep moving in the fresh air. Walking, running helps to release tension. It is also a breath for the soul,” Kogler said. 

“(But) basically, please do this by yourself. Don’t meet up.”

Hiking is also allowed and there are no time limits for how long you can be outside. 

What else can I leave the house for?

Other than the above, visiting the doctor or other health professional is accepted, as is going to church (although most services are suspended), voting in elections, visiting a cemetery or taking care of animals. 

You’re also allowed to leave the house for urgent reasons – to avert danger to life, limb and property – but keep in mind that the police are likely to take this seriously. 

If you do leave the house, make sure to keep a metre of distance and wear mouth and nose protection. 

Funerals are allowed with a maximum of 50 people

When did the order come into place? 

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the lockdown rule has come into place periodically before being relaxed again. 

As at Easter, 2021, for instance, a 24-hour stay at home order is in place for Vienna, Burgenland and Lower Austria, while the order only applies at night in the other six Austrian states. This has been continually extended in Vienna and Lower Austria, while in Burgenland it expired on April 18th. 

From Tuesday, November 17th, everyone in Austria was required to stay home 24 hours a day other than for a limited range of exceptions. 

The lockdown was in place until December 6th

On December 26th, the government again tightened lockdown rules – including reinstating the mandatory 24-hour stay-at-home order. 

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.