NOTE: Austria extended the lockdown until February 7th in a meeting on January 17th. Please click here for more information.
What has been announced?
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced on Friday, December 18th, that Austria would enter another lockdown on December 26th.
On January 4th, the government announced Austria would extend its coronavirus lockdown until January 25th, while the free testing scheme which would allow people to leave lockdown early will be scrapped.
On January 17th, the Austrian government further extended the lockdown until February 7th.
Here's what you need to know.
What is the lockdown trying to achieve?
The main objective of the lockdown is to cut community transmission, which has remained high despite the influence of the current measures.
The goal is to like to achieve a seven-day incidence of less than 100 cases per 100,000 residents and then keep the numbers low through mass tests, Kurz said.
As at January 21st, Austria's seven-day incidence is at 115 per 100,000 residents.
Austria relaxed lockdown measures somewhat on December 7th, but case numbers and fatalities have remained high.
The new lockdown is “the only possible way to re-open tourism, cultural life, restaurants and cafes during the pandemic and at the same time avoid numbers exploding again”, Kurz said.
How will the lockdown work?
At the announcement, Kurz said Austria would embark upon a three-phase process in order to “return to normal”.
The first phase will include another coronavirus lockdown – set to come into effect on December 26th – in the hope of reducing infection numbers.
The measures were “the only possible way to re-open tourism, cultural life, restaurants and cafes during the pandemic and at the same time avoid numbers exploding again”, Kurz said.
Phase two will aim to keep coronavirus cases low through a continuation of some measures along with a nationwide mass-testing scheme which will allow people to re-enter society.
The third phase will be widespread vaccination.
What measures have been adopted?
Like in the November lockdown, people will not be allowed to leave their house without a valid reason.
While as at December 18th these rules applied between 8pm and 6am, they now apply around the clock.
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.
More information about when you are allowed to leave your home and how many people you can meet is available at the following link.
Shops, services and businesses forced to close
Like in November, non-essential shops and other services like hairdressers and beauty salons will again be required to close.
Bars and restaurants will need to remain closed, however they may still operate takeaway services – although takeaway alcohol is prohibited.
Supermarkets, pharmacies and post offices will be allowed to remain open.
Rules surrounding how and whether to allow outdoor sports — including skiing — will be left for local authorities to determine.
Schools started teaching again on January 7th but only for home-schooling, i.e. without face-to-face lessons.
Click the following link for more information.
On February 7th, Austria extended the minimum distance requirement from one metre to two metres.
This means that people should try and keep two metres distance from each other.
FFP2 masks to be mandatory in public transport and shops
Previously, cotton masks or scarves were sufficient to satisfy the regulation.
Austria put in place a range of stricter rules after a meeting on January 17th, including extending the lockdown until February 7th.
While FFP2 masks are more expensive than standard medical masks, the government has promised that they will be available to Austrians at cost price.
People on low incomes would be entitled to the masks for free, a government spokesperson said.
The retailers also indicated that there would be no issues with supply, even as demand is set to spike as a result of the new law.
“Any mouth and nose protection is good, but the FFP2 mask is massively better,” said Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) on Sunday.
FFP2 masks offer better protection against the coronavirus and other pathogens, with up to 94 percent of aerosols filtered out.
Why is this lockdown necessary – and why now?
As at Thursday, January 21st, a total of 7,165 people have now died since the pandemic began in March in Austria.
Since Austria came out of its last lockdown in December, the rate of new infections has mostly stayed between 2,000 and 3,000 per day but the government had said its aim was to get the daily rate under 1,000.
Kurz told the media that he wanted people to celebrate Christmas to some extent, before going into lockdown – hence why the lockdown will start on the 26th.
“We have decided that we will spend Christmas as planned, but then tighten the measures again,” said Kurz.
“The big request is, from December 26th on, don't meet anyone again,” said the Chancellor.
Kurz warned the prognosis for the first few months of 2021 was “very, very gloomy”, with a return to normality only expected in the summer.
Are there any exceptions for the festive season?
People will be allowed to celebrate Christmas on the 24th and 25th of December, but harsher rules will come into place on the day after.
Unlike previously planned, there will be no exception for New Year's Eve parties.
For more information on the quarantine rules, please check the following link.
Note: This story was updated on January 4th to reflect the government's extension of the lockdown period – and the scrapping of the mass testing requirement.
This story was updated again on January 19th to reflect the extension of Austria's lockdown requirement.