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Austria to wind back quarantine rules on May 19th

Austria is set to relax its strict coronavirus quarantine on May 19th for most EU countries, making summer travel easier both for people wanting to visit Austria as well as Austrians returning home.

An arrivals board in the airport. Austria will relax quarantine measures on most arrivals from mid-May. Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
An arrivals board in the airport. Austria will relax quarantine measures on most arrivals from mid-May. Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

NOTE: For an updated summary of Austria’s entry rules in place after May 19th, please click the following link. 

Austria’s nationwide relaxation of the coronavirus lockdown measures on May 19th will include its strict quarantine. 

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

Austrian media reports that the quarantine obligation – which currently requires almost all arrivals in Austria to quarantine for ten or 14 days (depending on the state) – will be relaxed for arrivals from almost all EU countries. 

UPDATED: Which countries are now on Austria’s quarantine list?

The likely exceptions are to include high-incidence countries or regions, or areas where virus variants are particularly prevalent. 

How will the relaxation of quarantine rules work? 

As yet, this has not been finalised – with Austrian media reporting that the government is unlikely to put in place a free for all, i.e. the situation before the coronavirus pandemic. 

Instead, the scheme is likely to be based around the EU health agency ECDC’s traffic light system, which differentiates between areas depending on the prevalence of coronavirus infections. 

For countries coloured green or orange, entry is likely to be allowed unfettered, according to Austria’s Der Standard newspaper.  

When a country is coloured light red, negative coronavirus tests or proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus are likely to be required. 

UPDATED: Everything you need to know about Austria’s quarantine rules

Travellers from dark red areas will need to comply with a ten-day quarantine obligation, with the possibility of leaving quarantine after the fifth day. 

This system therefore resembles that which is currently in place federally (with some states having expanded the scheme to 14 days). 

It is as yet unclear as to whether Austria would adopt a system which places entire countries on a risk list, or would do this on a regional basis. 

What does that mean now? 

While looking at the current infection rates and making a decision on travelling on May 19th is like deciding to go swimming in a month based on today’s weather, there are several countries which currently sit below the threshold. 

This includes Italy, Spain, Greece, Iceland, Portugal, Malta and Finland. 

Germany – the country from which the most people arrive in Austria – would also fall. 

However, arrivals from France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia and Lithuania would still need to quarantine. 

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ECONOMY

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

READ NEXT: ‘We need immigration’: Austrian minister insists foreign workers are the only solution

The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The Covid-19 measures for the start of the Austrian school year

There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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