Today in Austria: A round up of the latest news on Thursday

Find out what's going on in Austria on Thursday with The Local's short roundup of the important news.

Landed passengers with face masks at Vienna Airport in Schwechat
Landed passengers with face masks at Vienna Airport in Schwechat (ALEX HALADA/AFP)

‘Safe to travel again’ from May 19th

From May 19th, it will be easier for Austrians to travel abroad again, Der Standard newspaper reports. Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger told the Ö1 Morgenjournal as long as travellers have a negative corona test, have been vaccinated or tested and do not come from a high-risk area or a mutation area, they will not need to be in quarantine when they return to Austria.

READ MORE: Austria to wind back quarantine rules on May 19

Pregnant women to be vaccinated against coronavirus

Austria’s National Vaccination Board (NIG) recommended coronavirus vaccination for pregnant women yesterday, broadcaster ORF reports. Pregnant women will be given priority in the same group as people aged 70 to 74 and patients with an increased risk due to previous illnesses.

Lower Austria to open up vaccine registration to all age groups by 10th May

All age groups in Lower Austria will be able to register for vaccination from next week, broadcaster ORF reports. The registration will begin with over 50s on May 3rd. On May 5th, those in their 40s can register, on May 7th everyone in their 30s and from May 10th, everyone aged over 16. Lower Austria’s vaccination coordinator estimates around 65 percent of the population will be willing to be vaccinated.

READ MORE: Lower Austria first state to start vaccinating all members of the public

Tyrol will soon move on to over 50s in vaccination campaign

Tyrol has almost finished vaccinating everyone over 65 years of age and its high-risk population,  Health Director Thomas Pollak said on Wednesday according to broadcaster ORF. The region will soon begin vaccinating people aged over 50.

Salzburg, Styria and Vienna lag behind in vaccination campaign

Salzburg, Styria and Vienna are lagging behind in the vaccination campaign, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. It says 60,689 health care workers, school and kindergarten staff from Lower Austria and Burgenland were vaccinated in Vienna, which means Vienna is “missing” 40,949 vaccination doses. Discussions about vaccine compensation are already being held in the Ministry of Health.

Chamber of Commerce calls for company vaccination to begin

The Chamber of Commerce (WKÖ) is calling for vaccination to be rolled out in companies in Austria in May. Companies in line to receive vaccines directly from the federal government include Porr, Post, ÖBB, OMV and A1 Telekom Austria, according to media reports. The Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports Vienna Airport, Magna and Erste Group are also trying to get a vaccine against Covid-19 and supermarket chains plan to immunise their employees from the middle or end of May. 

Seven day incidence at 168

The seven day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 168. The value is currently lowest in Burgenland (99.9) and Lower Austria (123.8), and highest in Vorarlberg (251.8) and Salzburg (188.4) according to the AGES database.

EU reforms for health, pensions, childcare and taxes to be discussed

The European Development and Resilience Fund (RRF) for Austria will go before the Council of Ministers today,  Der Standard newspaper reports. The EU’s specifications for reforms in Austria will be addressed. These include reform of the health and care system, reducing excessive dependency on the hospital sector, pension reform, changes to research, development and education and expansion of childcare to help women work full time. There should also be changes to payroll taxes and social security contributions. The Der Standard newspaper reports at 55 percent, the share of taxes on labour is one of the highest in the Union. 

Hospitality sector hit hard in Austria by lockdown

Travel warnings and lockdowns cost tourism in Austria a total of 105 million overnight stays from March 2020 to March 2021, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports – a decrease of 62 percent. According to Statistics Austria, the hotels and pensions only booked 4.56 million overnight stays between November and March, 55.02 million fewer than in the same period of the previous year, a decrease of 92.4 percent.

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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.