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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.

People queue up to use the shops
ALEX HALADA / AFP

Please note: As at March 30th, this plan is currently on hold. Please click here for more information. 

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. 

EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s compulsory testing requirement for visiting hairdressers?

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. 

People with FFP2 protective face masks wait in front of a pharmacy in the well-known shopping street Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

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.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

As the Easter holidays begin, here's all you need to know in order to get a free Covid test and what to do if it comes back positive.

Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Easter holidays are a big deal in Europe, with many countries having an entire week of days off of school and families travelling all over the continent.

So if you are heading to Austria, here’s what you need to know to enjoy the nice weather without (so many) concerns.

Entry rules to Austria

First things first: are you following the country’s entry rules? Austria has eased restrictions for travellers back in February. People only need to show proof that they are either fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have recently recovered from it or can show a negative Covid-19 test result.

Austria accepts vaccines from several laboratories as proof of vaccination for entry into the territory, including the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Travellers who can show the so-called 3G proof don’t need to quarantine or fill in any online forms. Additionally, children under the age of 12 are exempt from the regulations. They do not need to be tested, vaccinated, or recovered.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are Austria’s current entry and Covid rules?

What do I do if I suspect I have Covid-19?

If there is only suspicion, you should get tested. There are several ways to get tested for free in Austria, but if you have symptoms, you should call the Austrian health line on number 1450.

A nurse will be able to assess your symptoms and either classify you as a suspected case or give you further information on how to reach a general practitioner – or even go to a hospital if necessary.

If you are a suspected case, you could be referred to a specific test facility, or someone will be sent to the place where you are staying for a PCR test.

You can check a list of Vienna testing centres here.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What to do if you test positive in Austria

How can I get tested for free?

Since April 1st, Austria has changed its testing policy, and free Covid-19 tests are no longer unlimited in the country.

People will be entitled to five PCR and five antigen tests a month, though testing as a suspected case does not fall into that limit.

One of the easiest ways to get a free Covid PCR test, especially for people who don’t speak German, is using the Alles Gurgelt offers. For this, you need to sign up to the website, which is also available for Upper Austria.

When you click “jetzt registrieren“, you are taken to the partner company website. There are several languages to pick from, including English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

When asked for a social security number, you can just enter the digit 0000 together with your date of birth, as instructed by the website.

Tourists can also use test streets and “test boxes”, as you only need to bring a registration confirmation and an official ID and wear an FFP2 mask. The registration is made online, and you can check a box stating that you don’t have an Austrian social security number (Sozialversicherungsnummer).

READ ALSO: Vienna: How tourists, visitors (and residents) can get free Covid tests

What if my test comes back positive?

If you have tested positive for Covid-19, you are required to stay in isolation, which can be done in a hotel room, rented property, or in the house of the people you are staying with. In the latter case, your friends and family staying in the same place as you won’t have to go into quarantine.

If they are fully vaccinated, they are not considered contact persons. However, they should still get tested.

While in isolation, you are not allowed to leave the place you are staying for any other reason than health and safety emergencies.

You need to stay at home quarantined for 10 days. The quarantine can be ended automatically after five days if a PCR test comes back negative or with a CT value above 30 if you don’t have any symptoms for at least 48h.

READ ALSO: Austria: I’ve stashed away Covid tests. Can I use them from April?

Can I return home if I test positive?

Public health officers can decide whether individuals are allowed to travel home. Usually, this is allowed when travelling by private car. Train or plane journeys are not permitted with suspected or confirmed symptoms.

Useful vocabulary

Absonderungsbescheid: A segregation notice obliges a person to isolate himself from other people as much as possible. This is often referred to as quarantine.
Kontaktpersonen: Contact persons are persons who have been in contact (shake hands, conversation,…) with a person who tested positive.
Ansteckung: Infection.
Verdachtsfall: Suspected case.
Testergebnis: Test result.

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