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Austria to relax mask rules and open nightclubs in July

Austria said Thursday that partygoers will be allowed to hit the dance floor again in July as nightclubs reopen after a long Covid-induced pause, in line with a broader easing of measures.

Austria to relax mask rules and open nightclubs in July
A discarded FFP2 mask on the ground. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

Medical-grade masks also no longer need to be worn anywhere except for hospitals and nursing homes. 

FFP2 mask rules for shops and restaurants will be relaxed.

While FFP2 masks will still be required in hospitals and nursing homes, they will be dropped in all other areas where the 3G rule applies. 

Non-medical grade mouth protection, i.e. cotton masks or scarves, will again be sufficient in indoor areas such as bars, restaurants and in public transport. The government indicated it will make a concrete announcement at a later date. 

No masks of any kind will be required in outdoor areas, regardless of the size of the event. 

“The situation is much better than expected,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters, although he cautioned that people should get the vaccine and not become “overconfident” until they are immunised.

‘Fun is back’: Austria announces further opening steps

Crowd numbers will no longer be restricted at events, where people do not need to keep their distance or wear face coverings anymore.

A midnight curfew will also be lifted from July 1, allowing for nightlife to return.

The only rule that remains is that those who attend an event, go to a nightclub or eat in a restaurant must show proof of either having received at least one vaccination shot more than three weeks ago, recovered from coronavirus or tested negative.

Nightclubs closed in March last year as the pandemic spread through Europe and were among the few venues that mostly stayed shut last summer during a lull in new cases.

The Alpine EU member of almost nine million people has reported more than 649,000 cases to date with some 10,670 deaths.

Almost half of the population has already received at least one shot, while a quarter is fully vaccinated.

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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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