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Austria to relax coronavirus lockdown measures

Austria has announced an extension of the coronavirus lockdown, while relaxing a handful of measures. Here's what you need to know.

Austria to relax coronavirus lockdown measures
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz with Health Minister Rudolf Anschober. Photo: HERBERT NEUBAUER / APA / AFP

The Austrian government on Monday, February 1st, made its much anticipated announcement on the country's lockdown. 

While the lockdown will be extended beyond its current end date of February 8th, some measures look set to be relaxed. 

 

EXPLAINED: What are Austria's new coronavirus lockdown rules? 

All of the measures will be relaxed in a uniform fashion – i.e. there will be no regional or state variations. 

In addition to the following measures, Austria also pledged to toughen border controls to keep out the Brazilian variant of the coronavirus – however specifics of the tougher measures were not provided. 

Infection numbers have gradually and steadily fallen in recent weeks in Austria, with the current seven-day incidence at 105.4 infections per 100,000 residents.

This is far lower than in December and much of January, however it is still well below the target of 50 per 100,000.

The following measures will apply from February 8th

What will be relaxed? 

Stay at home order to apply only at nighttime

Austria's 24-hour stay at home order will only apply between 8pm and 6am from February 8th. 

More information is available at the following link. 

UPDATED: When am I allowed to leave my home under Austria's coronavirus measures? 

Two households

Two households are allowed to meet during the day from February 8th. 

Shops

The hard lockdown on ‘non-essential’ retailers is expected to be relaxed, with smaller shops selling clothes and gifts again allowed to reopen. 

FFP2 masks will be required in all shops, however. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Austria making FFP2 masks mandatory? 

Schools

Face-to-face lessons will again take place at Austrian schools, however this will be done with divided classes.

“We have agreed that the schools should return to classroom teaching after the semester break,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. 

Teachers and students will also be tested weekly. 

EXPLAINED: How Austria plans to test all school children to end coronavirus lockdown 

Hairdressers and beauty services again allowed – but only with a negative test

In addition, ‘body hugging service providers’ – i.e. hairdressers and cosmetic services – will again be allowed to open. 

These services will be subject to strict hygiene measures, such as FFP2 masks, maximum numbers of people per square metre and the recording of contact details. 

People will also be required to show a negative coronavirus test which is less than 48 hours old. 

“Here we will rely on the concept of entrance tests,” the chancellor said.

EXPLAINED: Austria's compulsory testing scheme for hairdressers

Museums, zoos and libraries can again open

Museums, libraries and art galleries are allowed to open, although FFP2 masks will be required and limits will be placed on the number of people who can enter. 

What won’t be relaxed? 

At this stage, despite their recent protests it appears that hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes will have to wait a little longer before being allowed to reopen. 

'Five months with no guests': Can Vienna's famous cafes survive coronavirus pandemic? 

Border controls – such as Austria’s quarantine requirement – also look set to remain in place for the foreseeable future. They will be discussed in more depth on February 15th, said Austria's Health Minister Rudolf Anschober. 

Why is the lockdown not being relaxed completely? 

One of the major reasons that a full relaxation has been avoided is due to the prevalence of the coronavirus mutation in Austria. 

Kurz called upon each resident of Austria to take responsibility to ensure infection numbers continue to fall in the coming weeks. 

“Once again, the responsibility of each individual in the country will play an important role”. 

Despite decreasing infection rates, the recent experience of the United Kingdom and Ireland – where infection rates exploded almost immediately after lockdowns were relaxed – showed the need to keep measures in place. 

“Together with the experts, we will once again discuss how we can create openings in the first areas very carefully and in a controlled manner without taking too high a risk,” announced Anschober.

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COVID-19 STATS

Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations, with 1,905 people currently hospitalised with the disease, compared to 826 three weeks ago – a 130 percent jump, data from the Health Ministry shows.

And the situation will worsen, according to Austrian experts.

The Covid prognosis consortium in Austria released a new report saying it expects an increase of 52 percent in Covid patients hospitalised in the next two weeks.

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.

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