EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s compulsory testing requirement for visiting hairdressers?

From Monday, hairdressers, tattooists and beauticians will again be allowed to open - but all customers will need a new negative coronavirus test. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s compulsory testing requirement for visiting hairdressers?

After weeks of watching their locks get wild and unkempt, Austrians will again be allowed to visit the hairdresser from Monday, February 8th. 

Hairdressers have been forced to close in Austria since December 24th. 

The announcement was made on Monday, February 1st along with a range of other lockdown announcements. 

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

However, in addition to wearing an FFP2 mask and a range of other coronavirus safety measures, Austrians must also present a negative coronavirus test. 

Children from the age of 10 will require a test. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Hairdressers, tattoos and beauty services again allowed from February 8th – but only with a negative test

In addition, ‘body hugging service providers’ – i.e. hairdressers, tattooists 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.

Wolfgang Eder, spokesman for the hairdressing peak body in Austria, said he was satisfied with the rules: “It is important that we open up! The entrance tests for our customers have to be as easy as in schools.”

Hairdressers themselves have also been happy, saying that they've filled up almost immediately with bookings. 

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's hairdresser in Vienna told Austrian media that he was booked out for the next five weeks following the announcement

There are more than 9,000 salons with more than 17,000 employees in Austria. 

How will it work?

Anyone going to a ‘body-hugging service provider’ will need to present a negative coronavirus test which is less than 48 hours old. 

Known in Austria as ‘entry tests’, this is the first step in a broader scheme to require people to show negative tests in various locations, including bars, restaurants, clubs, events and sports games. 

ANALYSIS: Has Austria picked the right strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic? 

The tests can either be a PCR or an antigen (i.e. rapid) test. 

The main proviso is that the test be carried out by a medical professional. 

This can be at a pharmacy, however 'self-tests' which are done at home will not count. 

Who bears the cost of the test? 

Contrary to some reports, hairdressers and business owners will not bear the cost of coronavirus tests themselves. 

The responsibility for getting tested falls on the person who wants to visit a hairdresser or beautician, but that does not necessarily mean they must bear the cost. 

Austria has put in place an extensive free ‘mass testing’ scheme to target clusters of the virus. 

As a result, free tests are available all over the country, including at pharmacies and at numerous ‘testing streets’ in larger cities and towns. 

READ MORE: Austria makes testing free at pharmacies

Do hairdressers, beauticians etc also need to get tested? 

Yes. Hairdressers and all other body-hugging service providers need to be tested “at least once a week,” said Anschober in an interview

Who will check that the tests are legit?

The company itself – i.e. the hairdresser/tattooist – will be required to check that the tests are legitimate. 

Police and health authorities will be carrying out random checks to make sure everyone is sticking to the rules. 

What about if I had the virus and recovered?

Anyone who has contracted coronavirus in the past six months and recovered does not need to complete a test, although you will need to provide evidence of your infection. 

Are there any other rules? 

As with most indoor areas in Austria, an FFP2 mask must be worn when visiting body-hugging services. 

In addition, businesses will be restricted as to how many customers they are allowed in. 

Only one person will be allowed per 20 square metres – the same restriction which applies in retail. 

If the business area is less than 20 square metres, then only one customer will be allowed. 

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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.