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

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. 

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 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.


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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Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria's autumn Covid-19 plan includes a fourth Covid-19 dose to all those older than 12 and the Health Ministry doesn't rule out further measures, especially a return of the mask mandate.

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria’s Health Ministry and the country’s National Immunisation Panel (NIG) have recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population ahead of autumn.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) and physician Herwig Kollaritsch of the Immunisation Panel have requested people take the vaccination before the cold months, reiterating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protects against more severe courses of the disease.

“You can do a lot before autumn. Don’t wait until the numbers rise. Get vaccinated, take the booster shots”, Kollaritsch said in a press conference this Wednesday, August 31st.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The previous recommendation was only for people older than 60 or those in risk groups. “After there was already the booster recommendation for the vulnerable and over 60-year-olds over the summer, all other groups are to get a booster in the coming weeks,” the health minister said.

Only 58.9 percent of the population is currently sufficiently vaccinated, as per the recommendation of the National Immunisation Panel (NIG) – which for the majority of the population is three doses – or if they’ve had Covid then two doses and a recent recovered status.

New measures ahead of autumn

The health minister stopped short of announcing new Covid-19 measures for autumn.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country back in May, Rauch had said the suspension would be “temporary” and masks were likely to return after summer, depending on the pandemic, particularly on hospitalisation numbers.

Currently, masks are obligatory in the health sector and on public transport in Vienna.

“We evaluate the situation weekly by talking with the hospital heads in the states. We have a very good view of the Covid-19 data, and we don’t rule out bringing measures back in the future”, he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

He added: “It is likely that in the autumn, compulsory masks will again be useful and necessary in certain areas such as public transport or supermarkets,”.

For now, though, the minister said he recommends people to get vaccinated, wear masks where social distancing is not possible, and get tested regularly – even if those measures are not mandatory.

When should you get vaccinated?

The fourth vaccination should come a minimum of four months after the third one (or after a Covid-19 infection) but not after six months of the third dose (regardless of whether or not the person has had an infection after the last vaccine), according to the NIG.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Which Austrian states will allow Covid-infected teachers in classrooms?

For children between five and eleven years of age, the basic immunisation – which consists of three vaccinations – should be completed by the start of school at the latest; no booster vaccination is currently recommended in this age group.

Austria expects vaccines adapted to the omicron variant to arrive in the country before the end of September, the health minister said.