UPDATE: Vienna and Lower Austria’s hard lockdown extended until May 2nd

The strict lockdown in the Austrian capital of Vienna and the state of Lower Austria will be extended until at least May 2nd.

UPDATE: Vienna and Lower Austria's hard lockdown extended until May 2nd
A visitors walks past removed chairs at the 'Orient Accident' restaurant at Naschmarkt market in Vienna, Austria.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The decision was announced at a press conference on Monday, April 12th, due largely to the dire situation in the country’s intensive care wards. 

Unlike the other eastern states, Burgenland will not extend its lockdown beyond April 18th. 

Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig announced on Monday that the existing strict measures would remain in place for a further two weeks past the current April 18th expiration date. 

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

This includes the 24-hour stay-at-home order, a ban on close contact services (i.e. hairdressers and cosmetic services), strict border controls, working from home requirements and the closure of non-essential shops. 

FFP2 masks will now be required in all rooms where more than one person is present, other than in private homes. 

Schools will continue ‘distance learning’ – i.e. home schooling – until at least April 25th. 

The next meeting of state authorities is scheduled for Friday, April 16th, although this may be brought forward, Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper reports

This is the third time the lockdown – which was originally put in place only to cover the Easter period – has been extended. It was initially imposed until April 7th, before being extended until April 11th, then April 18th. 

Member comments

  1. Of course…let’s lock down again AND have our health minister resign. No lockdown will solve this. Unless there is a mass vaccination effort, which there is not (that little website thing is a hot mess…) we will continue to be in lockdown until Christmas! Figure it out! This place has a socialized medical system and you’re telling me you can’t get this done? And they can in Mississippi? Vienna is doomed…

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EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.