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Austria considers mandatory PCR tests for returning travellers

Austria is considering making PCR testing mandatory for travellers returning from high risk areas, with one third of new infections coming from travel.

Austria considers mandatory PCR tests for returning travellers
Travellers at Vienna Airport. Photo: HELMUT FOHRINGER / APA / AFP

Austria’s health department wants to introduce mandatory PCR testing for those returning from travel, as this share of infections is on the rise, broadcaster ORF  reports.

Minister of Health Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) had been pushing for PCR tests to be made mandatory for returning travellers from July 22nd, but this was not introduced. 

Mückstein had wanted PCR tests to be made mandatory for people returning from risk areas, such as Spain. 

After all, the number of infections is rising sharply across Europe and Austria and travel clusters are becoming more and more obvious.

READ MORE: One third of new Covid-19 cases in Austria from travel abroad

But on Wednesday the ÖVP signalled that it was sticking to the easing plans as forecast and did not want any further tightening, arguing that this was not urgent as the intensive care units are currently empty. 

On Thursday, the Corona Task Force (Chancellery, Health Minister, Tourism and Interior Ministry) will meet again at Ballhausplatz to discuss the proposed measure.

PCR tests now required in nightlife

There will be more pharmacies throughout Austria offering PCR tests, as these are now a requirement for those wishing to access late night establishments.

From July 22nd, only people who have been vaccinated or those who have had a negative PCR test less than 72 hours ago can attend nightclubs.

This rule might also be extended to tent parties.

People who have recovered from the virus or those who have tested negative with antigen tests will not be allowed to attend.

Free PCR tests will be available at pharmacies in the next few days, President of the Chamber of Pharmacists, Ulrike Mursch-Edlmayr, announced on Wednesday, July 21st.

Gurgle tests to be expanded

There are also plans to expand Vienna’s “gurgle test” scheme.

In Salzburg, PCR tests available in the 15 test lanes of the Red Cross from Friday, in Linz a pilot project for “Alles gurgelt” is already running, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. Carinthia will also offer the Vienna project from August and in Vorarlberg pharmacies will have PCR tests offered. .

READ MORE: Vienna to roll out free coronavirus ‘gurgle tests’ next week

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Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

Summer vacations and rising Covid-19 infection numbers are a dangerous combination for travellers. Here is what you need to know about your rights if you get sick and need to cancel your holidays to or from Austria.

Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

You are all set for your long-awaited vacations, but just before you leave, the coronavirus test comes back positive. What to do and what are your rights? Is it possible to get a refund on your trip to or from Austria?

Will the airline let you move your flight to a different date, or will the hotel reschedule your reservation?

As summer vacations arrive, with most European countries having no or almost no coronavirus restrictions, travelling is back – and with a vengeance, it appears. Austrian Airlines boss Annette Mann said that “people [now] have an insane desire to travel”.

READ ALSO: Will Austria see travel chaos in airports this summer?

At the same time, Austria has been facing rising Covid-19 infection numbers for weeks, and there is a fear of an intense summer wave.

On Thursday, June 30th, the country reported 12,506 new cases in 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry.

What to do if you have symptoms?

If you have any symptoms of Covid-19, including mild flu-like symptoms like coughing or sneezing, you should get tested. In Austria, there are many alternatives for those looking for the test, from free PCR at home to antigen tests.

If you test positive with an antigen test, you should confirm the result with a PCR test. Once you are a suspected case, you should quarantine until your result is confirmed. If the PCR test is positive, you need to self-isolate for at least five days.

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

Self-isolation after a positive test is mandatory in Austria and most countries worldwide. That means that, by regulation, you are not allowed to leave your home for non-medical purposes during those days – or even longer,, depending on the course of the disease.

If you have a trip scheduled during your isolation period, that could be a problem.

What happens to my flight tickets?

Airline companies are not required to refund you or allow you to make changes to your flight for free – unless the ticket you purchased entitled you to these rights.

Most companies sell tickets for the same journey with different fares. Not only prices can change depending on the classic “economic, business, first class” divisions, but they can also increase dramatically depending on the type of ticket.

For example, an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to Rome in economy starts at €59.92. There are then three options: economy light, economy classic, and economy flex.

An empty Austrian Airlines check-in counter. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

READ ALSO: Austria sees scores of flight cancellations after airline staff contract Covid

The first, with the lowest tariff, does not entitle you to a refund and will charge you €70 for rebooking plus a possible tariff difference.

A “economy classic” ticket costs €89.92, and will allow you to rebook without a charge (you only need to pay the difference in prices). It will not give you a refund.

Finally, the “economy flex” costs €129.92, allows for a refund (minus a €70 fee), and lets you rebook without a charge (you only have to cover the price changes).

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

The tickets have other differences, including allowing you to carry more luggage or reserve your seat, for example. Depending on which one you purchased, you may or may not be entitled to a refund.

What about my hotel reservations?

The same is valid for hotel reservations. Most of them, especially if you have used an online booking platform, will have different fees and travellers have different rights. It is essential to understand each tariff and what they entitle you to.

For example, a twin room in a hotel in downtown Vienna could cost you €92, but it is non-refundable and you need to pay in advance.

READ ALSO: EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

The same twin room can be found for €108, but with free cancellation – read the fine lines and you will see that even the free cancellation is only valid until three days before the booking date in some cases.

Just like airlines, hotels are not mandated to refund you if you can’t make it to your reservation because you or a travel companion got Covid-19. Unless you paid for the more flexible (and more expensive) rate.

Photo by Jorgen Hendriksen on Unsplash

What can I do, then?

It is worth mentioning that there are a few things you could try. For example, if you purchased travel insurance, or if your debit or credit card has it automatically, you might be able to get a refund. So, check those insurance documents.

Additionally, it may be possible to negotiate directly with a hotel. While airlines are major corporations and it might seem next to impossible to find a human being able to perhaps negotiate, this is not the case with a hotel.

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

It may be that you are able to swap your reservation dates, depending on occupancy and how much wiggle room the hotel manager has. It won’t solve all your problems, but if it’s a trip to a nearby place, sometimes accommodation is more expensive than flights.

You also need to always be careful and double check the policies of tickets and hotel (or private accommodations) you buy and reserve. If you have booked through a travel agent or online platform, it is also worth looking if they have different cancellation or rescheduling policies.

Finally, if you have not made it to your hotel reservation because of a flight problem, if your flight was cancelled or delayed, for example, you have rights under the EU law.

*Prices for this story were checked on June 30th.

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