In December, Austria announced a plan to require anyone who wanted to leave lockdown early to take a coronavirus test.
While the government has abandoned this plan due to public and political opposition, state governors are pushing for a new scheme which would require people to show evidence of a negative test to gain entry to events or even to visit restaurants and bars.
Carinthian governor Peter Kaiser (SPÖ) told the Ö1 Morgenjournal program that the plan would be likely to have more support than the previous mass-testing idea, while Tyrolean governor Günther Platter (ÖVP) said the new plan would be “much easier than you’d think in practice”.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) is not opposed to the plan, but indicated that there are likely to be problems working out just how long a negative test should be valid for.
What is the governors’ plan?
While there are some vague elements in the details, the governors’ want to set up a system whereby evidence of a negative test will be shown on a person’s phone.
When gaining entry to an event such as a concert, theatre performance or a sports match, attendees would show evidence of a negative test – along with their admission ticket.
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Under Platter’s plan, the same would apply in gastronomy and hospitality.
Anyone entering a bar or restaurant would need to provide evidence of their negative test.
As with the previous mass-testing plan, the costs of the tests would be covered by the government.
What was the previous plan?
All those who tested negative would be allowed to participate in a range of activities – from shopping to leaving quarantine without a reason – while those who refused to be tested would need to remain in isolation.
The plan however was defeated in early January, with Austria’s opposition parties saying they would refuse to support such an idea.
Opposition parties harshly criticised the scheme, questioning the point of one-off tests and asking how the restrictions could be enforced.
After a high volume of complaints overwhelmed the parliament website, all three opposition parties on Sunday announced that they would block the necessary legislation in the upper chamber.
“That means that exiting lockdown early through getting a test won't be possible,” Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Monday, January 4th.
Will this pass?
In order to put the testing scheme into effect, the government would need to pass legislation.
According to Austrian administrative lawyer Peter Bußjäger, the most likely route would be to pass a law at a federal level which allows state governments to mandate negative tests for entry to events and hospitality venues.
While the governors believe that the scheme has a better chance of passing than the previous scheme, a major sticking point seems to be who will be responsible for checking that people are complying.
Der Standard reports that “the question of who would be responsible for checking the tests in bars emerged as the central problem” in the new scheme.
On Ö1 Morgenjournal, Platter was unable to say who should be responsible for checking – particularly at bars and restaurants where the responsibility of checking each person’s valid negative test may create an undue burden on already resource-strapped entities.
Another issue is how long the negative tests should be valid for.
Experts argue that antigen tests – the types of tests which the government was set to use in the mass-testing scheme – only have a validity of one day, because you could be infected but not be contagious until the day after the test.
Kurz argued that a negative test should let people visit bars and restaurants for seven days after the test – and to go to events for two days after the test.
Kaiser said the government should follow the advice of medical professionals in deciding how long a test can be valid for.