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COVID-19

UPDATE: What are the current rules for masks in Austria?

Austria relaxed mask rules in July. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are the current rules for masks in Austria?
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wears a mask with the national flag of Austria. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

This report was last updated on September 23rd. 

As at mid-September, Austria has tightened the requirement to wear an FFP2 mask in many public places. 

An FFP2 mask will be required for public transport and in essential retail shops, like supermarkets and pharmacies, with cloth masks no longer acceptable.

FFP2 masks are also required in hospitals or nursing homes. 

In retail shops and stores, FFP2 masks are mandatory for the unvaccinated. For vaccinated people, masks are recommended rather than mandated. 

Those who have had the virus and recovered from it in the past six months are also not required to wear masks in retail (they are merely recommended). 

Masks do not need to be worn in bars, restaurants and anywhere else where the 3G rule is in place. In effect, it means wearing masks is required in areas where entry cannot be restricted. 

The announcement follows the reopening of hospitality last month and the end of a night time curfew that had been in place for several months.

The tightening or relaxation of the mask requirement will depend on a continued low incidence rate of Covid-19 though, which is being monitored by the Ministry of Health, along with reference to hospitalisation rates and ICU capacity. 

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has repeatedly said that the only way out of the pandemic is for more Austrians to become vaccinated. 

In an interview with the Österreich newspaper in July, Kurz also said he did not want masks to become “permanent” in Austria, and said it was not part of the culture in Europe, unlike in other places, such as Asia.

What about the Delta variant?

As the Delta variant continues to spread around the world – particularly in the UK and the US – there are concerns about an increase of the strain in Austria.

The Kronen Zeitung reports that Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) is expecting cases of the Delta variant in Austria to increase, but that any spread of the strain will be slow.

Kurz said there is “no reason to panic” but urged people to get vaccinated before the Delta variant becomes more established in Austria.

Kurz also dismissed criticism that Austria is repeating the mistakes of last summer and said the country is well prepared for the next wave through the vaccination campaign.

COMPARE: What are the Covid test requirements around Europe for child travellers

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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