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VORARLBERG

Lockdown loosening in Austria: All eyes on Vorarlberg as restaurants open

The western Austrian state of Vorarlberg is set to open pubs and restaurants for outdoor - and indoor - dining from today. If it's successful, Austria will adopt the same plan.

Lockdown loosening in Austria: All eyes on Vorarlberg as restaurants open
Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

From Monday, March 15th, the Austrian state of Vorarlberg is set to loosen some coronavirus measures in a pilot project. 

If the project is successful and infection rates remain low, it will be adopted to allow restaurants and events again across the rest of Austria. 

Restrictions will be lifted on restaurants, while events and children’s sport will again be allowed. 

The openings will be facilitated by comprehensive testing requirements. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What measures will be relaxed? 

Events with up to 100 people will again be allowed. 

Indoor as well as outdoor dining will also be allowed. 

Events can also take place either indoors or outdoors, however rooms must be at half of their usual capacity. 

Sports for children and teenagers (up until the age of 18) will also again be allowed to take place, with clubs free to open from Monday. 

Can just anyone visit a restaurant or an event? 

People visiting restaurants will be required to show a recent negative test. 

This can be a PCR, an antigen test or a self-test. 

Evidence of a self-test will be allowed in digital form.

More than one million self tests have been ordered and will be distributed around the state by Monday. 

How fresh must the test be?

Antigen or self-tests made at a pharmacy or medical centre must have been made within the past 48 hours. 

PCR tests, as they are more accurate, can be up to 72 hours old. 

The ‘at home’ self tests are only valid for 24 hours. 

It will be the responsibility of the restaurant to ensure that each person has evidence of a negative test. 

What restrictions remain in place? 

The 8pm curfew will remain, meaning evening meals or events will not be possible, according to APA. 

A maximum of four people will be allowed to sit at a table in a restaurant if they are not from the same household. 

Weddings are expressly not allowed to take place. 

Other rules such as keeping two metres distance, wearing FFP2 masks, mandatory registration 

Why Vorarlberg? 

Vorarlberg has for a long period of time had the lowest infection rate in Austria.

On Monday, March 15th, the value is still lowest in Vorarlberg (67.5) of any Austrian state, followed by Tyrol (133.3).

According to the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), the 7-day incidence or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants across the country is 209. 

The number is highest in Salzburg (265.8) and Vienna (259.5). 

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ECONOMY

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

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The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

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There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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