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COVID-19

Green pass: Austria to implement nationwide immunity card by mid-May

Austria will implement its coronavirus immunity card, giving vaccinated people access to bars, restaurants and events, by May 19th.

Green pass: Austria to implement nationwide immunity card by mid-May
Vaccinated people in Israel show their 'Green Pass' - a card which allows them to re-enter normal life. Photo: JACK GUEZ / AFP

Austria’s immunity pass – nicknamed ‘green pass’ after a similar idea in Israel – will be up and running by May 19th, when the country steps out of the nationwide lockdown. 

Austria will introduce the pass before a similar idea is introduced at EU level, meaning that for most Austrians it will be introduced in phases. 

The card will allow special privileges for people who have been fully vaccinated, as well as those who have had the virus recently and who have tested negative. 

While the project has also been in development at a European level, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is one of its major advocates. 

In a press conference on April 26th, Kurz said he wanted Austria to be a “pioneer” of this plan. 

Kurz also indicated Austria will have the plan ready in the coming weeks and did not want to wait for the EU before implementing it. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

First phase: May 19th

The first phase of the green pass will be May 19th – just in time for Austria’s nationwide lockdown loosening. 

READ MORE: Austria to relax most coronavirus measures on May 19th

At this stage, “it will not be much more than normal proof of vaccination, testing and recovery”, reports Austria’s Der Standard newspaper. 

In that sense, the early phase of the green pass is expected to be similar to the existing proof needed to visit hairdressers in most Austrian states – and bars and restaurants in the state of Vorarlberg. 

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

It is not expected to be required for retail, however. 

This means that the early phase of the green pass will simply be paper or electronic proof of vaccination, negative test or a recent coronavirus infection. 

Second phase: early to mid-June

The second phase will see the pass incorporate a QR code, which will make it easier and quicker to scan people into events and bars and restaurants. 

This will be usable through smart phones, but Austrian media also reports it will be usable in paper form. 

An exact date has not been set for this, however Austrian media reports it is expected to be two to three weeks after May 19th’s first phase. 

Third phase: Europe

The third phase of the plan will involve a continent-wide scheme which will give holders rights to travel. 

This has sometimes been termed the ‘green passport’ and will not only allow people to travel, but is expected to be ready to allow people to visit bars, restaurants, events and close contact services (i.e. hairdressers) in other countries. 

No set date has been given for this but it is expected to be ready in time for summer. 

Wasn’t this supposed to be introduced in April? 

Austria had previously announced that the card would be released in April, but the plan was blocked by opposition parties in Austrian parliament. 

As a result, it will now be introduced in three stages from May 19th. 

What are the further hurdles and sticking points with the plan? 

One issue is whether the plan has parliamentary support in Austria, with the Social Democrats indicating they may not support it in its current form, Wiener Zeitung reports. 

If so, fully vaccinated people would also need to take a test to participate in the plan until May 25th – after which proof of vaccination would be sufficient. 

The Social Democrats have indicated they will blockade the plan until May 25th because there is not enough vaccine for everyone and they feel the introduction of a plan before that stage would be unfair. 

One further issue is a disagreement between European and Austrian authorities as to how long after both vaccination doses should the pass come into effect. 

In Austria, the plan is for the pass to be valid three weeks after your second vaccination shot, while in Europe and other countries the plan is for two weeks. 

Der Standard reports that in other countries even shorter deadlines are being considered. 

Austria has not made a conclusive decision on this yet but is expected to rely heavily on advice from the European Medicines Agency. 

Member comments

  1. The use of foreign documents to prove my vaccinated state is a question that might not yet be on the minds of Austrian policy makers but should be. We all know that tourism is important to Austria and its economy. Officially at least Austria will want me, a frequent visitor, back in Vienna from New Mexico very soon. I hope to there soon. Will airport functionaries be told whether to accept my vaccine proof, issued by the state department of health and authenticated by the pharmacy where I received the highly effective Pfizer vaccine? I hope so.
    Tom Arthur, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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