Lockdown measures: What will Austria decide on Monday?

The Austrian government is set to make a decision on Monday about whether to relax, or even tighten, the coronavirus lockdown measures.

Lockdown measures: What will Austria decide on Monday?
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

An “opening summit” took place on Thursday, in which Chamber of Commerce boss Harald Mahrer said the government should look at facts and data.

He believed this would show that opening up the catering and hotel industries would be possible in mid March by using testing, distance and mask requirements and vaccinations.

The federal government previously said cultural venues, cafes and restaurants would only open around Easter “at the earliest”.

Then, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz began to entertain the possibility of opening up restaurants with a testing strategy similar to that used by schools and hairdressers at the last easing of lockdown measures.

The federal government will meet on Monday to decide if and when lockdown measures should be relaxed. 

‘Very high risk’

However, this was quickly followed by a meeting of the government’s Corona Commission, which said Austria was currently at “very high risk”.

The infection rate is increasing and a rapidly increasing proportion of the infections are due to the British variant of the coronavirus. 

The commission not only warned against relaxing the existing measures but also spoke of going back into full lockdown if Austria once again found itself with a nationwide incidence rate of over 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Schools closure ‘last resort’

Two weeks ago, Austria’s incidence rate was 106, as of Friday, it is 149. However, the commission says schools should only close as a “last resort”.

ORF reports Vienna and Upper Austria will begin vaccinating teachers and kindergarten staff next week.

At present, the hospital figures do not look too alarming, with 13 percent of the intensive care beds occupied by Covid patients on Wednesday.

However, there is normally a lag between increasing incidences and increases in intensive care units, and the commission recommends that the federal states take measures to prepare for this. 

Are more cases due to more testing?

The commission believes only 10 to 15 percent of the increase in incidence cases can be traced back to increased testing. 

The British mutation of the virus is of particular concern to the Corona Commission. It is believed this variant is already responsible for more than half the infections across Austria.

The reproduction rate of the variant is 27 percent higher than previous versions of the virus, which pushes up the R number (the amount of people infected by each infected person) to 1.22.

The aim of experts and politicians is to keep the number of reproductions below one.

Who is catching coronavirus?

In the past three weeks there has been a disproportionate increase in the number of cases of coronavirus in those aged under 25 in comparison to the other age groups, connected to the introduction of testing in schools and educational establishments. 

Only minor increases were recorded in the over 65 age groups. There has also been a decline in coronavirus clusters in care and nursing homes as well as in the health sector due to vaccinations and other measures.

Two weeks needed to show results

Nikolas Popper from the Vienna University of Technology has told Der Standard after two weeks of increased testing in Austria it will be possible to show if testing is working in keeping the numbers of coronavirus infections in check.

He told the newspaper if there is no fall or stabilisation in the number of infections very quickly, it will show there is a problem in the screening process. 

The point of the tests is that infected people and their direct contacts are isolated and prevented from infecting others.

This should mean that the number of infections will automatically decrease. If this is not happening, the screening through the tests has too little effect.

Then it will be necessary to see if the tests are too imprecise or if quarantine is being enforced rigorously enough. 

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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.