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. 

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‘Kur’: The alternative treatments you can get from a doctor in Austria

In Austria, prevention and self-recovery play a big part in the healthcare system. Here are some alternative treatments that might not be prescribed elsewhere.

'Kur': The alternative treatments you can get from a doctor in Austria

The style of healthcare in Austria is often different to other countries, especially when it comes to prescribing medication.

This is because doctors in Austria have a holistic approach to medicine with a preference for natural and alternative treatments. This is so ingrained that it can even be difficult to get a prescription for antibiotics or sleep medication.

For some, alternative treatments and a focus on the power of rest for recovery can be a good thing. Particularly when compared to many western countries where there is a culture of presenteeism and a habit of dishing out medication without dealing with the cause of an illness.

FOR MEMBERS: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

But it can also be confusing (and frustrating) for people that are used to leaving a doctor’s office with a prescription for medicine, as opposed to an alternative treatment.

Here’s what you need to know about healthcare in Austria.

How does healthcare work in Austria?

Social insurance (which covers healthcare) is compulsory for people living in Austria, unless you have private comprehensive insurance.

Enrolment in the public health care system is generally automatic and is linked to employment, including self-employment. Insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, as well as pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.

The cost of healthcare is linked to income rather than health needs. 

READ MORE: Spas, pregnancy and contraceptives: What Austrian healthcare covers – and what it does not

But Austria actually operates a two-tier healthcare system, so residents can have their own private policies as well. Likewise, doctors can choose to work with public or only private patients – or both.

Also, expect a different style of bedside manner in Austria when compared with many other countries – most notably in a lack of small talk.

It is not rare for consultations to last just a few minutes, a drastic change for people from South America, for example, where doctors sometimes spend 30 to 60 minutes talking to patients. 

What alternative treatments can be prescribed?

One of the most well-known (and most surprising) alternative treatments in Austria is a Kur. This is a spa break for rest and recuperation and it must be prescribed by a doctor.

A Kur is covered by social insurance and the aim is to keep people in work by allowing them some time out to recover from an illness or injury. But don’t expect a chilled-out week by a pool as a Kur usually involves a rigorous schedule of physio and massage. 

For some people – like those diagnosed with Long Covid or recovering from burnout  a stay at a medical rehabilitation facility for several weeks might be prescribed. In this case, the schedule might include sessions with a psychotherapist, as well as physical therapy to aid recovery. Again, the cost is covered by social insurance.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Another alternative treatment that can be prescribed by a doctor is for a package of infrared (Infrarot) sauna sessions. This is often for people with back or mobility issues.

Similarly, a referral (Überweisung) to a physiotherapist is given out to people with injuries, usually far quicker than in countries like the UK where it can take several months to access physio through the public health system.

And controversially, some Austrian doctors still prescribe homoeopathic remedies in exceptional cases. An example would be when all other treatment options have been exhausted and homoeopathy could improve the situation.

How to get alternative healthcare treatments in Austria?

As with most health issues in Austria, the first step is to visit a general practitioner (Hausartz). Your doctor should then explain treatment options.

In most cases, if an alternative treatment is suitable, then a doctor should offer it. Or at the very least, provide you with a referral to a specialist who could then prescribe a treatment.

However, treatments like a Kur or a stay at a rehabilitation facility are not always prescribed straight away. For example, a Long Covid patient might have to visit a doctor several times before being offered a place at rehab.