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COVID-19

EXPLAINED: What will the rules be when Austria eases restrictions on May 19th?

Restaurants, hotels, schools, sport, events and swimming pools will open up again on 19th May - with rules in place. Here’s your complete guide to how that will work. 

A cafe in Vienna setting out chairs for outside dining at the city's Naschmarkt JOE KLAMAR / AFP
A cafe in Vienna setting out chairs for outside dining at the city's Naschmarkt JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Chancellor Kurz has told Austria that from May 19th everything “from soccer matches to brass band music” will be  possible again”. Further opening steps should come by July 1st at the latest.

So what will the rules be in May? 

How will testing and registration work? 

From May 19th, the first phase of the “green pass” will start. You must provide evidence that you have been vaccinated, tested or recovered to go out to a restaurant.

PCR tests will be valid for three days, antigen tests valid for two days, and there should also be the option of digital self-tests, which are valid for one day. In addition, it should be possible to carry out a self-test  on site. For children, testing at school will work as an entry test.

Registration is expected when when visiting a restaurant, this will involve giving your name, telephone number and email address.

How many people can meet? 

Up to 10 people (plus children) can meet outdoors in groups. Indoors a maximum of four adults (plus children) can meet. 

Bars and restaurants 

There will be access tests and registration requirements. When you are not seated in your assigned seat, you must wear an FFP2 mask. A maximum of four adults (plus children) are will be allowed indoors as a group, and up to ten people in the pub. There will be a curfew of 10pm. Drinking at the bar will not be allowed.

READ MORE: Plastic, paper or digital: How will Austria’s coronavirus immunity card work?

Sports

 Indoor football will be allowed again, along with other contact sports. Access tests and registration will be necessary. When practicing sport, it will not be necessary to wear an FFP2 mask.The 20 square metre distance rule does not apply outdoors. 

Culture and Events

Cultural events will require access tests and prior registration. A space of 20 square meters must be available per person indoors in cinemas, large events and sports and culture events. With assigned seats, a maximum of 3,000 visitors will be permitted outdoors, and 1,500 people indoors, with one seat left empty between every household group. Events will be limited to 50 percent capacity. 

Without fixed seats, the maximum inside and outside is 50 people. A curfew of 10pm will be in place. There is no upper limit at the trade fairs, but a 20 square metre per person rule.

The Vienna Prater and other leisure facilities are also allowed to reopen. 

Museums

For museums, the 20 square metre rule must be observed, and people must wear FFP2 masks. However, it will not be necessary to show a test/vaccination/recovery certificate.

School
Students go back to school in Vienna. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Normal face-to-face classes will be back from May 17th. Mouth and nose protection (MNS) is required in lower grades and FFP2 masks in upper grades. Children should be tested three times a week. 

Hotels 

The Green Pass or proof of test, vaccination or recovery must be brought with you for check-in. Anyone who wants to use services in the hotel, such as wellness facilities or a restaurant for a longer period than the entry test allows must carry out additional testing to access these facilities.

In swimming pools and hot water baths, a minimum of 20 square metres must be available per guest.

What about weddings or big parties? 

Weddings, big celebrations or big club events are “not possible yet”,  according to Chancellor Kurz, but may happen again when more vaccinations mean “a return to normality in summer”.

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COVID-19 STATS

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, with 2,428 people currently hospitalised with the disease, including 118 in intensive care (ICU).

One month ago, just 871 people were being treated in hospital with an additional 47 people in ICU.

The Austrian Federal Government has now said they will make a decision on bringing back the mask mandate by October 23rd. Last week, the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) recommended wearing FFP2 masks.

According to ORF, the mask mandate could return for public indoor spaces, public transport and in the gastronomy sector. The Austrian Trade Association has already rejected the suggestion saying it would be the “last straw” for employees as the industry struggles with staff shortages.

What are the Covid-19 experts predicting for the autumn and winter season?

The latest report from the Covid prognosis consortium in Austria predicts a rise in hospitalisations in October. 

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

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

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.

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