EXPLAINED: How will Austria's compulsory test requirement to go shopping work?
Eastern Austria's post-Easter reopening may include mandatory testing in shops. Here's what you need to know.
This week, Austrian officials announced a hard Easter lockdown in the east of the state.
From April 1st until April 6th, the states of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland will enter a hard lockdown.
While the lockdown should end on April 6th, it may be extended if infection rates and hospitalisations remain high.
What is the plan as it currently stands?
If shops open again on 7th April following the Easter lockdown in Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland (from 1st April to 6th April), you will need a test to go shopping, according to the latest plans of the Ministry of Health.
Will I need a negative test result to visit all shops?
Not all shops. Some retail outlets, such as those providing vital services, appear to be be exempt.
For example you can go to supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and post offices without a test, reports Austria's Kurier newspaper.
As it stands, it appears the shops with a negative test requirement will be those considered 'non-essential' by the government which are not allowed to open from April 1st to 6th.
How could a test requirement work in practice?
Although more details are forthcoming, Austrian media reports that the system may be similar to that currently employed for close contact (i.e. body-hugging) services like hairdressers and cosmetic services.
Austria's Kurier newspaper reports that the test would need to be less than 48 hours old, much like in rules for close contact services.
Alternately, it could mirror the system in place in Vorarlberg.
In Vorarlberg, the only state in Austria to open up its restaurants and events so far, has done so with a test requirement.
In the western state, there is an online test platform which people can use to upload negative self-tests.
A digital confirmation of the test is used as a 24-hour entry certificate for events, as well as giving children aged under 18 the chance to participate in indoor sports.
A PCR test result is valid for 72 hours. An antigen test carried out under supervision by an authorised body gives access for 48 hours.
To visit a pub or restaurant a negative PCR test (taken in the past 72 hours) or an antigen test (taken in the past 48 hours) must be presented.
In Austria it is already necessary to show a negative recent PCR test result when visiting a hairdresser or other “body hugging” services, such as a manicurist or a tattoo parlour.
What exemptions could be in place?
If the eastern states follow Vorarlberg’s methods, people who have contracted Covid-19 in the past six months are exempt from the obligation to test. This can be proven with a doctor's certificate or proof of neutralising antibodies (for a period of three months). Vaccinated people are not exempt from the obligation to test.
What do the shopkeepers say about the plans?
The GPA union has criticised the corona access tests planned for retail in eastern Austria, saying they are “unrealistic” and “unsuitable for fighting pandemics".
The union fears a test requirement may increase attacks on shop employees from disgruntled customers, many of whom already dislike the mask requirement in shops.
If tests were compulsory, the non-food trade would lose two thirds of sales, Rainer Will, managing director of the trade association, told the Kronen Zietung on Monday.
How likely is the plan?
One of the major stumbling blocks appears to be whether or not the plan can be supported under existing law, or whether a new amendment would need to be passed.
While the Austrian government is pushing ahead with the plan, it is expected to receive some serious opposition from the other parties in parliament.
Health Minister Rudolf Anschober however said he believes the Covid-19 Measures Act framework allows for the measure to be introduced, much as it has been for hairdressers and cosmetic services.
Free gurgle tests for Vienna
Vienna has announced today all people working or living in Vienna can be regularly tested for the corona virus free of charge using a PCR gargle test. People who drop off their tests at participating stores before 9am receive the result within 24 hours.
The Alles Gurgelt (everyone gurgles) website explains test results can be already be used to visit a hairdresser or in the future, to visit other businesses with a test requirement. Starting next week, up to 200,000 free PCR tests should be possible for all Viennese people every day.