Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland to re-enter strict coronavirus lockdown

The eastern states of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland will re-enter a strict coronavirus lockdown on April 1st due to rising infection rates and hospitalisations.

Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland to re-enter strict coronavirus lockdown
Photo by AFP

Please note: On March 29th, Vienna extended its lockdown until April 11th. Please click here for more information. 

The announcement was made on Wednesday evening at a press conference by Health Minister Rudolf Anschober together with Governors Michael Ludwig (Vienna), Johanna Mikl-Leitner (Lower Austria) and Hans-Peter Doskozil (Burgenland).

Several lockdown measures will be adopted, including a 24-hour stay at home order, the closure of all non-essential shops and services, as well as an extension of the school holidays. 

What measures will be adopted? 

The government outlined nine measures which would be put in place as part of the tightened lockdown. 

The lockdown is set to come into effect from Thursday, April 1st – traditionally the first day of Easter. Some measures may end on April 6th, while others will remain in place indefinitely. 

1: Close contact services like hairdressers and cosmetic services will be closed from April 1st until April 6th. 

2: Non-essential shops (i.e. retail) will be forced to close. Only supermarkets and pharmacies will be allowed to open (from April 1st until the 6th). 

3: FFP2 masks will be required outdoors wherever crowds form 

4: Commuters from risk areas must be tested twice per week, while police will carry out more border checks. 

5: FFP2 masks will be required in indoor settings where more than one person is present. 

6: Companies are to ask employees to work from home or be tested at least once per week. 

7: Schools will go to distance learning after the Easter break (i.e. no face-to-face lessons)

8: If retail opens again on April 7th – which is by no means certain and depends on infections and hospitalisations – people will need to show evidence of a negative test to go into non-essential stores

9: A 24-hour stay at home order will come into effect, whereby you can only leave the house for certain exceptions. 

More information as to when you can leave your house is available at the following link. 

Austria’s coronavirus lockdown: Under what circumstances can I leave my apartment?

Anschober said that the measures may be extended across the country if infections continue to rise.  

“Eastern Austria is a pilot region, it could easily be the same in other federal states.”

New variant to blame

Ludwig told the press that if these measures did not work in curbing rising infection rates and hospitalisations, an extended lockdown would be imposed. 

“If we don’t see results in a timely manner, we will have to go beyond this package,” says the Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig. 

“Eastern Austria is much more confronted with the ‘British variant’, which is also related to the neighbouring countries Slovakia and the Czech Republic, where the variant is widespread. Vorarlberg is doing better there, the British variant is currently less widespread in Switzerland and Germany”, said Ludwig.

“Until now we believed that school is less affected. We now see it differently. Not everyone should go back to school immediately, the risk of infection there is very high,” says Ludwig. 

Seven day incidence is at 243

The seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 243.

The number is highest in Vienna (312), followed by Salzburg (298.9). The value is lowest in Vorarlberg (78.1) and Styria (190.8). Around 3,415 newly coronavirus infections were registered on Tuesday. 

MAPS: Where are Austria’s hospitals under the most pressure?

A record number of people are in intensive care with coronavirus in Vienna and planned operations are being postponed.

Patients are younger and have more severe cases of the disease due to the British mutation of the virus Der Standard newspaper reports.

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UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, with 2,428 people currently hospitalised with the disease, including 118 in intensive care (ICU).

One month ago, just 871 people were being treated in hospital with an additional 47 people in ICU.

The Austrian Federal Government has now said they will make a decision on bringing back the mask mandate by October 23rd. Last week, the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) recommended wearing FFP2 masks.

According to ORF, the mask mandate could return for public indoor spaces, public transport and in the gastronomy sector. The Austrian Trade Association has already rejected the suggestion saying it would be the “last straw” for employees as the industry struggles with staff shortages.

What are the Covid-19 experts predicting for the autumn and winter season?

The latest report from the Covid prognosis consortium in Austria predicts a rise in hospitalisations in October. 

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

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

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.