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

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

   Hikers take a break on the top of the Gaislachkogl Mountain in Tyrol (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)
Hikers take a break on the top of the Gaislachkogl Mountain in Tyrol (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

Compulsory departure test for Tyrol ends on May 5th

The compulsory exit test, which has been in effect for North Tyrol since March 31st and for East Tyrol since April 15th, will end on Wednesday, at midnight, Der Standard newspaper reports.

The easing is due to the stable overall coronavirus situation and the declining number of infections, the situation in the hospitals and, above all, the considerable decline in the escape mutant B1.1.7.-E484K.

“There are currently 238 cases of the variant,  a decrease of 716 cases within the last 13 days,” said Elmar Rizzoli, head of the Corona task force.

Tyrol’s Health Councillor resigns

Two Tyrolean councillors resigned on Tuesday, Economic Councilor Patrizia Zoller-Frischauf and Health Councilor Bernhard Tilg (both ÖVP), Der Standard newspaper reports.

In the course of the corona pandemic, Tilg gained notoriety with an appearance on the ZiB 2 programme,  where he repeatedly said that Tyrol had “done everything right” in the course of the Ischgl case.

Tilg says he wants to return to his original job as a professor of medical technology and medical informatics and turn his back on politics.

Opening steps for Vienna decided on Thursday

Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig will consult with experts on Thursday and announce how to proceed with the opening steps, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports.

Whether Vienna, like other federal states, will open all areas – from gastronomy to events – at the same time from May 19th remains “highly questionable” the paper reports.

It is rumoured restaurants in the capital will only open inside at the end of May, the paper says.

More details on Green Pass

Austria’s Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said the EU-wide Green Pass system could be available in Austria as early as June 4th, Wiener Zietung reports.

This means Austria will also wait to launch its digital certificate on the same date.

The newspaper says the government is still deciding whether to include those vaccinated with the Sputnik vaccine, which has been used in Serbia and Hungary, in those exempt from testing.

The paper also reports anyone who skips their second vaccination will be marked “unvaccinated” in the Green Pass and will lose their privileges. 

EU Commission wants to allow vaccinated people to travel 

The EU Commission has suggested lifting the restrictions on entry into the EU for fully vaccinated people from both inside the EU and for third country nationals, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. 

The paper reports, this does not mean that people do not have to meet any requirements such as mandatory testing or quarantine – but if such rules do not apply to citizens of the EU country, then they should not apply to third-country nationals either.

Seven day incidence at 140.5

The seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 140.5 according to the AGES database. The number is still highest in Vorarlberg (225.1) and Tyrol (172.6). The value is lowest in Burgenland (83.5) and Lower Austria (91.8).

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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.