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Explained: Everything you need to know about Austria’s plan to ease lockdown

Starting from later in the month, Austria is set to loosen some lockdown rules along with adopting a regional approach. Here’s what you need to know.

Explained: Everything you need to know about Austria's plan to ease lockdown
Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

On Monday, March 1st, Austria announced that a range of coronavirus measures would be relaxed later in the month. 

Central to the plan is Austria’s vaccination framework. Austria, a country of nine million, is planning to have one million people vaccinated by Easter

What was decided? 

Austrian media reports that a major sticking point in the meeting was the date on which hospitality venues would again be allowed to open. 

Austria’s Kronen Zeitung said that the motto of the meeting was “better to be checked to the host than to a private party”. 

Pubs and restaurants with terraces all across the country will be allowed to open from March 27th, although all visitors will need to have evidence of a negative test. 

The decision is not final and is subject to review in mid-March. Authorities will assess infection numbers two weeks before the March 27th opening date, with particular reference to the prevalence of virus mutations. 

Youth and school sport will also be allowed to start again all over Austria from March 15th.

Measures to be relaxed earlier in Vorarlberg 

The loosening will come earlier in the state of Vorarlberg, with both indoor and outdoor areas in pubs and restaurants allowed to open from March 15th. 

Entry will be subject to the presentation of a negative test result, although the amount of time test results are valid has not yet been decided. 

Cultural venues will also be allowed to open, while amateur sport will again be allowed in the state. 

This new regional approach was forecast by The Local Austria on Monday morning due to the state’s low coronavirus infection rates. 

The new approach will allow Austrian states with lower infection rates to open up, while those which are already open may be forced to shut down again if infection rates rise. 

Austrian authorities will be watching Vorarlberg closely and consider it a “pilot region” for openings. If infection rates rise, this may have an impact on opening plans in other states. 

It represents a departure from the previous approach of adopting uniform rules in all of Austria’s nine states. 

What will remain closed?

“We start outdoors before we can dare to approach indoors,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. 

If the rollout is successful, pubs and restaurants may again be allowed to open indoors from April. 

FFP2 masks are also to be required in workplaces from March 27th onwards. 

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria's autumn Covid-19 plan includes a fourth Covid-19 dose to all those older than 12 and the Health Ministry doesn't rule out further measures, especially a return of the mask mandate.

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria’s Health Ministry and the country’s National Immunisation Panel (NIG) have recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population ahead of autumn.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) and physician Herwig Kollaritsch of the Immunisation Panel have requested people take the vaccination before the cold months, reiterating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protects against more severe courses of the disease.

“You can do a lot before autumn. Don’t wait until the numbers rise. Get vaccinated, take the booster shots”, Kollaritsch said in a press conference this Wednesday, August 31st.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The previous recommendation was only for people older than 60 or those in risk groups. “After there was already the booster recommendation for the vulnerable and over 60-year-olds over the summer, all other groups are to get a booster in the coming weeks,” the health minister said.

Only 58.9 percent of the population is currently sufficiently vaccinated, as per the recommendation of the National Immunisation Panel (NIG) – which for the majority of the population is three doses – or if they’ve had Covid then two doses and a recent recovered status.

New measures ahead of autumn

The health minister stopped short of announcing new Covid-19 measures for autumn.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country back in May, Rauch had said the suspension would be “temporary” and masks were likely to return after summer, depending on the pandemic, particularly on hospitalisation numbers.

Currently, masks are obligatory in the health sector and on public transport in Vienna.

“We evaluate the situation weekly by talking with the hospital heads in the states. We have a very good view of the Covid-19 data, and we don’t rule out bringing measures back in the future”, he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

He added: “It is likely that in the autumn, compulsory masks will again be useful and necessary in certain areas such as public transport or supermarkets,”.

For now, though, the minister said he recommends people to get vaccinated, wear masks where social distancing is not possible, and get tested regularly – even if those measures are not mandatory.

When should you get vaccinated?

The fourth vaccination should come a minimum of four months after the third one (or after a Covid-19 infection) but not after six months of the third dose (regardless of whether or not the person has had an infection after the last vaccine), according to the NIG.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Which Austrian states will allow Covid-infected teachers in classrooms?

For children between five and eleven years of age, the basic immunisation – which consists of three vaccinations – should be completed by the start of school at the latest; no booster vaccination is currently recommended in this age group.

Austria expects vaccines adapted to the omicron variant to arrive in the country before the end of September, the health minister said.

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