Austria rolls out free PCR tests at pharmacies

Following the news that only vaccinated people and those with a negative PCR test can access night-time gastronomy, PCR tests will now be available for free at pharmacies.

Austria rolls out free PCR tests at pharmacies
Free PCR tests will be made available at pharmacies all over Austria. Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP

The announcement was made by the President of the Chamber of Pharmacists, Ulrike Mursch-Edlmayr, in an interview with the APA, who confirmed the roll out of free PCR tests will start nationwide in the coming days.

The tests will be offered by all pharmacies across Austria where antigen tests are currently offered, as well as test stations, and the scheme is starting today in Graz at the exhibition hall.

However, registration online is currently only available for antigen tests until the system has been updated. In the meantime, registration for a free PCR test is required on site at the test station.

EXPLAINED: Can tourists use Austria’s Covid-19 green pass to visit bars and events?

The new ‘2-G’ rule for late night venues like clubs and discos came into effect on Thursday 22nd July in a bid to stem the rising number of coronavirus infections.

Previously, people could access late night venues with proof of recovery from coronavirus or a negative antigen test.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) has also called for doctors to be able to conduct free PCR tests in order to prevent the Delta variant from spreading further throughout Austria, according to ORF.

How will it work?

For insured people in Austria, booking a free PCR test at a pharmacy will work the same way as the antigen tests.

An appointment will be made, followed by a swab being taken. The results will then be sent out by SMS and email.

The ORF reports that the cost of the free PCR tests will be covered by social security, which will then be financed by the Federal Government.

Mursch-Edlmayr acknowledged the offer of free PCR tests is another expense for the health system but described it as a “necessary service”.

READ MORE: Austria considers mandatory PCR tests for returning travellers

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Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

As Covid-19 infection numbers continue rising, Austria's government doesn't rule out a comeback of the mask requirement.

Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

Austria has seen rising Covid-19 numbers for weeks, and the country’s traffic light commission has increased the risk rating of all federal states, with none currently designated as “low risk”.

Virologists and health experts have given many explanations for rising numbers and forecast that new infections, currently at more than 12,000 a day, could reach more than 30,000 in the next few weeks.

Austria’s Covid commission said that the omicron subvariant BA.4/BA.5 is a decisive factor in the increase, as it is considered more infectious. “Additionally, an increased proportion of travel-associated cases has been observed in recent weeks”, the commission stated.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

Dorothee von Laer, a Med-Uni Innsbruck virologist, told Der Standard that the new subvariant could be responsible for a new wave as “the protection we have from BA1 infections, and from vaccinations, is not so good against BA.4/BA.5”.

“So people who were infected early on, or who are only vaccinated, have of course some protection against hospitalisation, but almost no or very little protection against infection”, she said.

Von Laer mentioned other factors that likely contributed to the increasing numbers, including the fact that people have stopped wearing masks after the requirement was dropped in most of Austria.

Are masks about to make a comeback?

When Austria’s federal government announced they would drop the Covid mask mandate, they phrased it as a “pause” to the FFP2 masks, which were still mandatory in essential trade and public transport.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said that the mask requirement will be “paused”, as the pandemic is not over yet, and that people should be prepared for a resumption of the rules after summer, as The Local reported.

BACKGROUND: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

Many experts believe FFP2 masks won’t be optional for long if numbers continue rising. Von Laer said, “we will probably have to resort to the mask again, even if the hospitals are not overcrowded because we want to protect the vulnerable people”.

The health minister had already stated that it is time people “take personal responsibility” so that they choose to wear masks in crowds or when close to vulnerable people.

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

However, he recently added that if the situation “goes in the direction of overloading the health system, then, of course, I am also obliged to react”.

The minister also said he reassesses the situation every week, observing developments in other countries.

‘We will have to learn’

For Rauch, people will need to learn to live with the masks, as future waves can also be expected in the coming years. He added that we would have to learn to take personal responsibility, make self-assessments, and have solidarity.

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

He also assumes more flexible measures in the future. For example, public transport signs will ask for the mask mandate during morning traffic hours, but not on empty evening trains.

His goal, the minister stated, was to find a middle ground between demanding as few restrictions as possible and exercising caution.

Covid-19 stats

Austria on Wednesday reported 12,509 new coronavirus infections after 169,948 PCR tests, according to the Health Ministry.

There were 856 people in hospitals with Covid-19 and 47 in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,779 people have died from the disease.

The country has just over 61 percent of its population with a valid vaccination pass.