Austria to crack down on ski tourists evading lockdown

Austria will tighten checks to deter foreign skiers from using loopholes in the country's coronavirus lockdown to travel to the country's ski resorts.

Austria to crack down on ski tourists evading lockdown

“We will intensify controls” in Alpine ski resorts and at the border, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a press conference.

Though a lockdown has kept hotels, restaurants, bars, schools and all non-essential businesses closed for weeks, Austria's government allowed ski lifts to re-open just before Christmas, maintaining that outdoor sports posed little transmission risk.

But while the measure was intended for locals only, there have also been reports of hundreds of foreigners being lured to the pistes and several virus outbreaks have been reported at resorts.

Authorities in St. Anton in the western Tyrol region last week complained about two hundred foreigners from the UK, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Ireland and Sweden who had mostly arrived by train from Zurich.

Local officials said the visitors had registered for residency, claiming they were looking for employment in the closed-down tourism industry.

More than 44 addresses in the area were raided on Friday and Nehammer said “it was possible to file more than 100 charges and to set an example”.

The majority now face fines of up to 2,180 euros ($2,620), a spokesman for Tyrol's provincial government told AFP, adding that the exact amount would be determined on a case-by-case basis but that none of them could be deported or arrested.

Still, the raids prompted about 30 foreigners to give notification that they were leaving and depart St Anton over the past few days, Helmut Mall, the mayor, told AFP on Tuesday.

Mall said he hoped “this was a clear message that nobody should come — we're still under lockdown,” he said.

EXPLAINED: How Austria's coronavirus restrictions are about to change 

“Now some calm will return,” to St. Anton, which usually hosts about 12,000 skiers per week in the winter, Mall said.

A single skier from Germany was placed under quarantine on Friday in St. Anton, as she could not produce pre-travel clearance documents required to cross the Austrian border, Helmut Pintarelli, a police inspector in St. Anton, told AFP Tuesday.

Pintarelli denied previous media reports that 96 foreigners were placed under quarantine and that they had been charged for partying in the small village.

Interior Minister Nehammer on Tuesday also announced tougher border measures, including a requirement for cross-border commuters to register with authorities and get tested on a weekly basis.

Though Austria will ease restrictions starting Monday, with stores and schools allowed to reopen, hotels, cafes and restaurants will stay closed.

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LATEST: What are Austria’s current Covid-19 rules?

Travellers entering the country no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, but masks are still mandatory in some places.

LATEST: What are Austria's current Covid-19 rules?

From Monday, May 16th, travellers coming into Austria no longer need to present proof that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have tested negative for the disease, or recently recovered from it.

Previously, the so-called 3G rules were in place for all people coming into Austria, with very few exceptions.

The government over the weekend dropped the requirements just ahead of warmer months, stating that the epidemiological situation no longer justified them.

On Sunday, 15th, Austria reported 3,777 new coronavirus cases after just under 110,000 PCR tests were taken. In total, 807 people are currently hospitalised with the disease, and 62 are in intensive care units. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,303 people have died from Covid-19 in Austria.

Despite dropping the entry requirements, the federal government reiterated that the rules could change, mainly if a variant of concern is found.

READ ALSO: Austria extends Covid regulations as experts warn of autumn resurgence

Domestically, Austria still has a few coronavirus restrictions in place, including an FFP2 mask mandate in some areas.

These are the latest rules you need to be aware of:

FFP2 mask mandate

The obligation to wear an FFP2 mask only applies in enclosed spaces of hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport (including stops and stations), taxis, customer areas of vital trade, such as supermarkets, and administrative buildings.

The mask mandate is no longer in place for enclosed places like gyms, restaurants and bars, and cultural establishments, but masks are still recommended.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Isolation after a positive test

After the fifth day of isolation and at least 48 hours without symptoms, you can end quarantine for mild or asymptomatic cases.

However, there is a “traffic restriction” for another five days, with a mask mandate and no entry permitted in gastronomy venues, health and care homes, and events during this period.

READ ALSO: Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

In order to obtain an early lifting of the restrictions, a free PCR test can be carried out. If the test is negative or with a CT value (short for Cycle Threshold and is the gold standard for detecting Covid-19) above 30, the isolation can be lifted.

If the value is below 30, then you must remain in isolation.

Vienna doesn’t follow the ‘traffic restriction’, so the only way to end the 10-day isolation is with a PCR test (negative or CT value below 30) after two symptom-free days.

You can find more information on federal restrictions on the government website here.

The 3G rule

A 3G rule (proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, recently recovered from the disease or has a negative test) is generally only needed for visitors, employees and service providers in hospitals and care homes.

READ ALSO: Ba.4 and Ba.5 Covid variants detected in Austria: What you need to know

In Vienna, on the other hand, the rules are stricter.

Visitors and workers need to have the 3G proof plus a negative PCR test. However, the city has dropped 2G rules for gastronomy and nightclubs – the only places where it was still required to show proof of vaccination or recovery.