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SCHOOL

Masks, testing and sport: What are the rules for schools in Austria?

School is back in Austria from Monday onwards. Here’s what parents and students can expect.

Masks, testing and sport: What are the rules for schools in Austria?
What are the rules for school in Austria? Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Face to face lessons are back in Austria, although there will be a few changes to the usual way of things. 

From testing three times per week to masks, here’s what you need to know about the new rules for schools. 

When are schools going back in Austria? 

Face to face lessons will start up again on Monday, May 17th. 

This applies to both primary/elementary schools, as well as secondary schools. 

Are the lessons taught in shifts? 

Lessons will take place via face-to-face teaching for middle schools and AHS lower grades, along with elementary schools. 

Lessons take place over a five-day period, i.e. no longer in shifts on alternating days. 

What are the rules for testing? 

Students need to be tested three times per week. 

This can be either through a test at school, or an antigen or a PCR test off site. The antigen and PCR tests are valid for 48 and 72 hours respectively. 

Students who have been vaccinated or who have had the virus in the past six months do not need to take a test. 

Students who refuse to be tested will need to take part in distance learning. 

What are the rules for masks? 

Masks must be worn, although this will differ somewhat depending on the age group. 

In elementary schools, students will need to wear masks, but as of June 15th will not need to wear them in classrooms or in group rooms.  

In lower grades of high school, the masks must stay on in class – while in upper grades masks must remain on. While in May this was only FFP2 masks, from June 15th this was relaxed to be all masks, i.e. medical and cotton masks.

More information is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: Masks no longer required in schools in Austria 

Can students take part in sport? 

Physical education classes and sport can take place – including swimming – however it should happen outdoors wherever possible. 

Masks are not required. 

Contact sports are allowed, but two metres of distance should be maintained as much as possible between participants. 

Events such as sports days can take place provided they only last one day and that they “take place in strict compliance with the necessary hygiene regulations and carry out a risk assessment”.

What about other rules? 

There will be a restriction on the amount of tests and exams that can take place, with a limit of one school assignment per semester. 

The Education Ministry has said the focus of grading should be on cooperation rather than competitive assessment. 

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For members

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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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