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Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Thursday

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

Windsurfers at Neusiedler See (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Windsurfers at Neusiedler See (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Green pass gets green light

Austria’s Green Pass will be used digitally with a QR code as proof for corona-vaccinated, tested and convalescent people for access to restaurants and leisure facilities from June 4th, after legislation was passed yesterday.

READ MORE: Austria to implement nationwide immunity card by mid-May

Experts say infection rates in Austria will continue to decline

Experts assume the decline in infection rates will continue in all Austrian federal states despite the opening of restaurants, bars and sports, cultural and leisure facilities, Der Standard newspaper reports. The situation in the hospitals will also relax further and experts expect a significant decrease in the need for intensive care. 

Covid traffic light commission says no state in Austria is now red

Austria’s Covid traffic light commission said this week, for the first time in many months, there are no longer any federal states in the red zone, which is triggered at 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants. Vorarlberg has now also fallen well below this mark with a seven-day incidence of 75, according to the working paper of the responsible commission. Lower Austria and Burgenland will go into the yellow “medium risk” zone, as their incidences are below 50.

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

Ministry of Health recommends vaccinating children

Austria’s Ministry of Health advises children should be vaccinated once the EMA approves the vaccine.

Vorarlberg to use “influencers” to persuade younger people to get vaccinated

It will soon be the turn of under 30s in Vorarlberg to be vaccinated, and the state will turn to three influencers from the Austrian state to persuade this group to go for the jab. It is hoped this will convince those aged under 16, who will soon be eligible, that they want to be vaccinated. 

Seven day incidence at 41

According AGES database, the seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 41. In all federal states, the number is now well below 100 – with Vorarlberg (76.8) and Burgenland (23.8) having the highest and lowest values, respectively.

Terrorist register introduced in Austria 

A “terrorist register” will be introduced in Austria, meaning it will be recorded in the criminal record for life if someone has committed a terrorist offence. The ministerial office gave the green light on Wednesday.

Protest from ambassadors over Israeli flag

Seven Arab ambassadors in Vienna have protested against the raising of the Israel flag and say it is incompatible with Austria’s neutrality. The Foreign Minister said there could be no neutrality in the face of terror.

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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. 

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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.

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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