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COVID-19

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

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

Screens projecting hygiene measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic can be seen outside the city hall in Vienna (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Screens projecting hygiene measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic can be seen outside the city hall in Vienna (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austrian Chancellor says he will not resign

Public prosecutors are investigating Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for allegedly making false statements during the parliamentary inquiry into the Ibiza scandal.

The Constitutional Court VfGH has ordered Kurz to hand over additional email evidence to the inquiry. The Chancellor has given an interview to the ZiB2 programme in which he denies the charges and says “Of course I will not resign”. 

READ MORE: Austria’s chancellor facing investigation over false statement to MPs

Fast economic recovery predicted for Austria by European Commission

 The European Commission is projecting a fast post-pandemic economic recovery in Austria, with 3.4 percent growth expected in 2021 and 4.3 percent for 2022, Der Standard newspaper reports. The Austrian recovery is driven by exports and a recovery of domestic consumption, although the recovery of tourism is more difficult to predict, the newspaper says.

Climate proofing needed for construction sector, unions claim

Trade and business unions from the Austrian construction sector are calling for a large-scale, €140 billion climate-proofing project for housing and public buildings, to avoid fines for exceeding CO2 targets, Die Presse newspaper reports. 

Testing strategies for May 19th opening vary across Austria

The different states of Austria are coming up with ideas to allow people to carry out tests before accessing hotels, restaurants, sport and events when Austria opens up on May 19. As yet there is no central platform to register the tests throughout Austria. 

  • Salzburg and Upper Austria have announced they will make “living room” tests available as are currently used in Vorarlberg, in which people can test themselves at home and then register the tests in an online portal using a QR code. 
  • Upper Austria will make 20 self-test sets with QR codes available per month on Tuesday and use a website to register the test. 
  • Styria plans to administer more antigen tests, and says around 750,000 a month will be available  in Graz, for example. On May 18th and 19th there will be extended opening times in the test stations until 8pm and in Graz until 10pm . 
  • Vienna will continue to rely on its ‘Alles Gurgelt” gargle test programme. A registration app for restaurants is promised by the Chamber of Commerce

READ MORE: Austria: What are Vienna’s coronavirus gurgle tests?

READ MORE: What can Austria learn from Vorarlberg allowing indoor dining and events from Monday

Border traffic relaxed between Bavaria and Austria

The borders have been open to day trippers between Bavaria and Austria since midnight. Those crossing the border must show they have been vaccinated, tested or recovered from Covid-19, and the relaxation only applies to travelers who have only stayed in Germany or Austria in the past ten days. Tyrolean governor Günther Platter has also called for easing of restrictions of border traffic between Tyrol in Austria and South Tyrol, which is in Italy. 

Landing ban extended for India, South Africa and Brazil

Aircraft from the virus mutation areas India, South Africa and Brazil are not allowed to land in Austria at least until the beginning of June. The current landing ban, which would have expired next Tuesday, has been extended to June 6th. 

READ MORE: Austria to impose landing ban from India amid variant concerns.

Lower Austria to go ‘orange’

Lower Austria will join Burgenland as rated “orange” by Austria’s coronavirus traffic light commission. Orange is still “high risk” for coronavirus transmission but lower than red, which is defined as “acute” risk. 

READ MORE: Explained: How does Austria’s coronavirus traffic light system work

Seven day incidence at 89

The seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 89.1 according to the AGES database. The number is highest in Vorarlberg (152.6) and Styria (120.2). The number is lowest in Burgenland at 47.5.

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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.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: Why is Wien Energie asking for €6 billion from the Austrian government?

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.

FOR MEMBERS: When will Austria make the €500 anti-inflation payment and how do I get it?

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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