What will the rules be for children returning to school in Austria this autumn?

Students return to the Akademisches Gymnasium high school in Vienna.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Students return to the Akademisches Gymnasium high school in Vienna.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
The Austrian government has released its plans for starting school in autumn. There will be a four-point plan, including an "early warning system", an advanced testing strategy, vaccination, and air purification equipment to be used in classrooms. 

The Ministry for Education, Heinz Faßmann, has promised there will be no extensive closures or teaching in shifts this autumn.

Sewage analysis to detect outbreak

Regions affected by a rise in Covid-19 cases will be identified in two ways. Firstly, a wastewater analysis will be done at 116 sewage treatment plants to identify regional areas where there is an increased spread of Covid-19.

This allows the virus to be detected a week before the statistical recording of the infections. If necessary, tests should then be carried out more intensively in schools in the affected regions.

Regular tests for students

In addition, PCR tests will be carried out regularly at 300 schools across the country, using Vienna’s ‘Gurgle test” system. The results should be available much faster than before. If this shows an increasing risk, individual tests will be carried out with all students.

READ MORE: Austria: What are Vienna’s coronavirus gurgle tests?

Testing will continue in schools, with antigen tests for students at least twice a week as well as a weekly PCR test. 

Masks to be worn at start of school

In the first 14 days of school operation, mouth and nose protection (MSN) masks will be mandatory within the school. The mask can be removed once students are seated.

The mask requirement after this initial period will depend on the infection rate in Austria. The Ministry of Health is also in talks about which indicators will be used for this. According to Faßmann, the seven-day incidence is no longer sufficient.

Vaccinated pupils will not have to test

Faßmann promises that  vaccinated students and teachers will not have to test themselves. The vaccination will be recorded in the “Ninja Pass” for vaccinated students, just as the tests have been done before, creating a  “2G” requirement for schools, similar to Austria’s nightclubs.

Broadcaster ORF reports around 19 percent of twelve to 15 year olds are vaccinated and 45 percent of 16 to 19 year olds. There is a plan to vaccinate more children over the summer, with 30 vaccination buses heading for selected summer schools throughout Austria in August.

Vaccinations will also be offered at discos and youth clubs.

READ MORE:

Ten million euros for air purification devices

Around ten million euros has been set aside as subsidies to allow schools to ventilate their classrooms better with air purification devices. The devices have been shown to reduce viral load, but are not a substitute for vaccination, testing, ventilation and wearing an MNS. Around 10,000 devices will be distributed to schools.

In future, mechanical ventilation options must be built into classes when renovating or building new schools.

Faßmann promises large school closings or shift work are “no longer a political option,” he said. As before, schools will react autonomously and, if necessary, will be able to order additional tests or, for example, the wearing of masks during group work.


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