Weekend lockdowns: What you need to know about Vienna’s landmark proposal

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Weekend lockdowns: What you need to know about Vienna’s landmark proposal
Would weekend lockdowns work in Austria? Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Could a strict weekend lockdown help reopen Vienna? And what can the rest of Austria learn from the plan?


Vienna's health chief Peter Hacker has promised his plan to reopen the state’s economy is “not radical”. 

However, it would be the first such time a plan of this nature has been tried in a major European city. 

What is a weekend lockdown?

Weekdays, or Monday to Friday would be almost like the pre-pandemic days in terms of restrictions, weekends would resemble the hard lockdown that was in place from December 2020 to early February. 

READ MORE: Vienna proposes 'weekend coronavirus lockdowns' 

Under the plan, shops, businesses and even restaurants would be allowed to open during the week until 8pm or 9pm at night. If the plan is successful, the opening hours could be extended until 1am.

Over the weekend however, a strict lockdown would again be imposed, including a stay at home order and the closure of all non-essential business.


Would a weekend lockdown plan work?

Hacker hopes the weekend lockdown would act as a “breakwater” to prevent rising numbers. 

The centrepiece of the plan is that the weekend closures short circuit coronavirus infections. 

When people are infected, it takes several days before they become infectious - and in many cases several days until they experience symptoms. 

“It is well known that it takes four days before infected people can infect others. The new model would act as a breakwater,” Hacker told Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper

“A pandemic always moves in waves, it's not something that is constant. With the idea of weekend lockdowns, we can impose our own rhythm on what is happening.

“This is not a radical model. We would not open everything.

"We need simple rules that allow public life, but with moderation."

Why is a weekend lockdown being considered? 

The plan looks to return Vienna to some form of normality - at least for part of the week. 

With all kinds of shops, restaurants and some bars potentially opening again during the week, there would also be economic benefits for businesses which have been hard hit by the pandemic. 

Of course, bars and restaurants would be deprived of weekend trade - i.e. the most lucrative time of the week - however it would be a step in the right direction for hundreds of thousands of workers across the country. 

As yet, culture and leisure facilities - including sport - have not been considered as a part of the discussion, however they could be included as a next step. 


What are people saying about the idea? 

Opinion on the idea is predictably split. 

Der Standard on Tuesday published its regular ‘for and against’ column to discuss the idea. 

Journalist Oona Kroisleitner, in speaking in favour of the idea, said the idea was a solution to the back and forth lockdown closure and reopening which the country had seen since the start of the pandemic. 

Opening during the week would provide economic benefits while also giving people a taste of the normal life many of us now miss (as well as some restaurant-quality cooking). 

Journalist Katharina Mittelstaedt, in speaking against the idea, said too much remained unclear about the proposal - such as whether people would be compulsorily tested on the weekend, if the week would last four or five days and would people really be able to adjust to tough rules in one part of the week and relaxed rules in the other part. 

She also pointed to evidence from the Medical University of Vienna which questioned whether weekend lockdowns would truly be a circuit breaker to infection, as people can remain infectious for longer than three days and risks of infection still remain on the weekend. 

People who work during the week may also have a right to feel aggrieved, i.e. that they have to work when others can enjoy the lockdown relaxations but must stay cooped up during their leisure time. 

When would it be introduced? 

Hacker proposed the plan be introduced at the end of February or the start of March, although no concrete date has been proposed. 

What exactly is the weekend? 

Hacker said at this stage he was unsure whether businesses would be allowed to open from Monday to Thursday or from Monday to Friday.

During the announcement, Hacker suggested a four days on, three days off model would be the best to cut infection rates - although no firm commitment was offered. 

How likely are weekend lockdowns? 

The major sticking point at this stage is likely to be the federal government. 

Under Austria’s federal rules, no state can put in place measures which are more relaxed than the federal minimum. 

This means that under the current lockdown rules, Vienna would need to seek permission from the federal government.


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