‘Ninja tests’: What are Austria’s coronavirus sticker book tests for children?

Austria has rolled out a 'playful' sticker book to encourage children to get tested. Here's what you need to know.

School children are regularly tested for COVID-19 at school in Austria (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)
School children are regularly tested for COVID-19 at school in Austria (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

Austria is due to open up on May 19th with a “green pass” which will require people to show proof they have tested negative for Covid 19, recovered from an infection or been vaccinated to gain access to restaurants and events.

For children, there is a similar plan – but one which is a little more fun.

Paper, plastic or digital: How will Austria’s coronavirus immunity card work?

Known as the ‘Covid Ninja’ sticker book, it lets kids do certain things provided they have been tested. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What is the Covid Ninja sticker book?

Children in Austria are already tested for the coronavirus three times a week at school before starting lessons.

Now they will be able to show they have been tested and gain access to restaurants, cafes, sports facilities and events with a special Covid Ninja sticker book, which will leave a space every week for three negative test “stars”. 

The stickers will remain valid for 48 hours, meaning after children have tested negative for the coronavirus at school they will not have  to test again within this period. 

A pilot project will also be rolled out in Vienna involving more sensitive PCR testing for school children rather than antigen testing.

If successful, PCR testing in schools will be done throughout Austria. In the interim, more sensitive antigen tests will be used. 

“We’re making it easy, almost playful (for kids to get tested)” said Education Minister Heinz Faßmann at a press conference on Wednesday. 

The scheme, which Austrian media are comparing to Panini collector stickers, uses a small sheet of paper decorated with a cartoon ninja. 

There is space for three stickers a week – one for each test – while the piece of paper is small enough to be carried in a wallet. 

Once the test has been carried out, the sticker can be put on the paper by the student or the teacher. 

An example can be found at the end of the page. 

The number of infections is low in schools, the APA agency reports. The positive rate for students is around 0.08 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.