ANALYSIS: Is Austria relaxing Covid-19 measures too quickly?

ANALYSIS: Is Austria relaxing Covid-19 measures too quickly?
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: Peter Kneffel / POOL / AFP
From Thursday in Austria, it will no longer be compulsory to wear a mask in most public spaces. With the threat of the Delta variant on the horizon, are the rules being relaxed too quickly?

Instead, nose and mouth coverings will have to be worn on public transport and in essential retail stores, like supermarkets and pharmacies, but masks will no longer be required in places where proof of the 3-Gs (tested, vaccinated or recovered) applies.

This means people going to hospitality and cultural venues, visiting the hairdressers and taking part in leisure activities will no longer have to wear a mask, although the 3-G rule will stay in place.

However, at the same time, the WHO is recommending the continued use of masks to protect against the Delta variant – even for people that are fully vaccinated.

And a new study by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found that wearing a high grade mask can offer up to 100 per cent protection against Covid-19, compared to surgical or cloth masks that offer limited protection to the wearer and other people.

What does the differing advice mean? And is Austria relaxing Covid-19 measures too soon?

READ MORE: In which jobs are vaccinations mandatory in Austria?

What is the advice from the WHO?

The WHO has said that Delta is quickly becoming the dominant strain of Covid-19 around the world.

During a news briefing last week, Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products, said vaccination alone won’t stop the spread of the variant and urged people to remain cautious.

She said: “People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves.”

Dr. Simao then advised people to continue with protective measures, such as mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding crowds and practicing good hand hygiene.

What are people saying about the relaxation of restrictions in Austria?

Austria’s Kurier news outlet has today asked if the country is taking a risk by relaxing restrictions later this week, particularly the end to the mask requirement in most places.

On Twitter, people are sharing their concerns about the upcoming relaxation (Lockerungen) in light of the Delta variant.

According to Der Standard, the Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) might not follow all of the federal government’s planned easing of restrictions on 1 July.

Instead, he wants to continue with the requirement to wear masks indoors and is meeting with experts today to decide on the next steps.

Currently, around 6.3 per cent of all Covid-19 cases in Austria are the Delta variant and Austria’s Coronavirus Traffic Light Commission has called for faster vaccination and further PCR testing.

READ MORE: TRAVEL: How does the new EU Covid certificate work and how do I get one?

What is happening in other countries?

Following the recent recommendation from the WHO, the Wall Street Journal reported that half of the people infected with the Delta variant in Israel had already been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer jab. 

Israel has now reintroduced an indoor mask requirement. 

In the USA, Los Angeles County has also reintroduced a mask recommendation for residents as cases of the Delta variant increase in the state – including for fully vaccinated people.

The UK has recorded 117 deaths from the Delta variant, including 50 people who had already been fully vaccinated and were aged over 50.

A face covering is required in the UK in places like supermarkets, public transport, hairdressers and public areas in hotels. 


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