UPDATED: What does Austria’s coronavirus lockdown mean for schools?

From December 26th, Austria will re-enter lockdown. What does this mean for schools?

UPDATED: What does Austria’s coronavirus lockdown mean for schools?
photo by claudio schwarz on unsplash

Austria will go into another lockdown – the third in the country since the pandemic started – from December 26th. 

In addition to a stay-at-home order and the closure of shops and other businesses, schools will also be affected. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules of Austria's upcoming coronavirus lockdown? 

Schools are currently scheduled to start again on January 7th but only for home-schooling. Pupils will not be able to actually attend classes in person, although some provision will be made for students who need care. 

Kindergarten is also cancelled. 

While school was originally set to go back on January 18th, as of January 4th, face-to-face lessons will again take place in Austrian compulsory schools from January 25th.

Will students need to be tested? 

Austrian Education Minister Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP) confirmed on Saturday that students will not be required to take a coronavirus test in order to return to class. 

For anyone else wanting to leave quarantine on January 18th, a negative coronavirus test is a pre-requisite. 

Those who do not get tested will be required to remain in quarantine until January 25th. More info is available here

Previously, Austria had planned to extend school holidays until the 11th of January, however this plan was overturned when the announcement was made on Friday, December 18th. 

What about teachers? 

Testing will be mandatory for people to return to certain professions after the lockdown – including teachers. 

From then onwards, teachers must be tested once per week. 

The professions where testing will be mandatory are: teachers and kindergarten/elementary educators, hairdressers and other services where close contact is unavoidable, retail (only if direct customer contact), healthcare (all professions with patient contact) and the construction industry (preferably at company level).

I need to work. Can I send my children to school anyway? 

Schools will not reopen on January 7th, but Faßmann said on December 19th that parents who cannot care for their children at home will again be able to send them to school. 

“Students and parents are already familiar with the procedure,” the Education Minister said.

As a result, schools will be open to provide care and support to children under 14. 

These are the same rules that applied in Austria’s second lockdown. 

Although lessons will not have a traditional character – and teachers will not be present – staff and devices will be on hand to assist students with distance learning. 

What about upper level and vocational schools? 

As yet, it has not been settled whether upper schools (Oberstufe) will again start face-to-face lessons on the same date, or whether distance learning will be continued. 

Unlike compulsory schools, upper schools have been in distance learning since November.

However, students of the AHS upper levels, BMHS and vocational schools can, as before, be brought to schools between the 7th and 15th of January for practical vocational exercises or to help them prepare for their final classes. 

Despite this, classes will not be allowed to exceed half of the usual amount of students at any time. 

Note: This story was updated on January 4th to reflect the government's decision to extend the lockdown by one week. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.