Austria to relax most coronavirus measures on May 19th
Austria on Friday announced several lockdown measures which would be relaxed from mid-May. Hotels and restaurants will again be allowed to open, with some measures remaining in place.
After six months of being locked down, Austria will allow hotels and restaurants to open again from May 19th.
The Austrian government confirmed the news at a press conference on April 23rd.
"We are on the final stretch in our fight against the pandemic," Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters.
The dates remain fixed, although the government indicated that increases in infection rates - and in particular the threat posed by mutations of the virus - may lead to a delay of the date or changes in the rules being relaxed.
Schools will also be opened again, although this will take place on May 17th.
A second round of openings will then take place on July 1st, six weeks after the May 19th openings.
Here’s what you need to know.
Green pass not ready
In addition to the specifics of the relaxed rules, the government confirmed that the proposed ‘green pass’ - Austria’s immunity card - would not be ready before the 19th.
Instead, visiting restaurants and hotels will be subject to the so-called ‘Vorarlberg model’ of testing. This is outlined below.
The immunity card is still being developed and is expected to be ready before summer.
Why May 19th?
After weeks of speculation that the lockdown measures would be relaxed sometime in May, the government confirmed media predictions that the 19th of May would be the target date.
This was a product of a political compromise, with state governors arguing about which date it should be from May 13th (Ascension Day) to the Pentecost on May 23rd.
Eventually, May 19th was chosen as the final date.
Hotels and restaurants
Hotels and restaurants will again be allowed to open.
Restaurants can serve people in both indoor and outdoor areas.
A range of distance and hygiene requirements will be maintained however. Masks must be worn except when sitting and eating.
In addition, a maximum of two households being allowed to meet in restaurants. A maximum of four people will be allowed at each table inside, while a maximum of ten will be allowed at a table outside.
Children do not count towards the tally.
Restaurants will be required to close at 10pm.
The nighttime curfew will end on May 5th, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein confirmed.
As it stands, both Vienna and Lower Austria have in place a 24-hour stay at home order, but these will both expire on May 3rd and are not expected to be extended.
Meetings of a maximum of ten people are allowed outdoors - while a maximum of four people are allowed outdoors.
Outdoors between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. only meetings with a maximum of four adults are allowed.
Children do not count towards the tally.
Sporting events and cultural facilities
Cultural and sporting events will again be allowed to take place, subject to certain limits.
A maximum of 1,500 people are allowed indoors - and 3,000 are allowed outdoors.
A maximum of 50 percent of the seats can be filled.
At events without seats, a maximum of 50 people can attend - with permits required for events with 51 or more guests.
Entry tests: Restaurant visits pursuant to the ‘Vorarlberg Model’
Entry to restaurants, hotels and events will be via the model in place in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg, which relaxed coronavirus measures in mid-March.
In order to visit events or restaurants, you will need to show evidence of a negative test.
These tests are valid for different times depending on the type of test.
Home tests - otherwise known as self-tests - are available for 24 hours. Antigen tests - i.e. those which have been carried out by pharmacists or professionals - are valid for 48 hours, while PCR tests are valid for three days.
Schools will start face to face lessons on May 17th.
Testing will be compulsory for all students and teachers three times a week, while FFP2 masks will be compulsory in school buildings.
Tests must be provided to play indoor 'sport', i.e. individual activities at the gym or fitness centre. An area of 20 metres squared must be provided for each participant.
For outdoor sports, contact and team sports are possible but negative tests must be provided.
From July 1st?
From July 1st, bars will again be allowed to open - although only a max of two households can meet.
Kurz says Austria's reopening must be "careful"
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that Austria was being "careful" by reopening a month away, but that the relaxations are motivated by the country's vaccination scheme.
A third of the country's almost nine million people will have received at least one shot of vaccine by mid-May, allowing a "careful" reopening of gastronomy, tourism, culture and sports, Kurz said.
However, it will be up to each province to take the final decisions what to open based on local coronavirus indicators closer to the date, Kurz said, urging people to remain vigilant to stop the virus from spreading.
"We are on the final stretch in our fight against the pandemic," the conservative chancellor told reporters. He said from May 19, restaurants and hotels may reopen under strict safety measures and only for those who can show a negative test result or that they have been vaccinated or have recovered from coronavirus.
Public events can also resume for this group of people and under safety measures. Numbers will be capped at 1,500 people for indoor and 3,000 people for outdoor events, Kurz said.
Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig said it remains to be seen whether the capital -- which is currently under a strict lockdown with movement restrictions and only essential shops open -- will be able to reopen.
"May 19 is still far away," the Social Democrat mayor told a separate press conference, just before Kurz addressed reporters.
The Alpine EU member has so far recorded more than 604,000 coronavirus infections with 10,055 deaths.
Vienna and two other eastern provinces tightened restrictions this month as their intensive care units filled up with Covid-19 patients.