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COVID-19 HEALTH PASS

EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new tighter Covid measures for unvaccinated?

On Wednesday, the Austrian government decided it would tighten Covid measures as of Wednesday, September 15th, with some rules only applying to the unvaccinated.

EXPLAINED: What are Austria's new tighter Covid measures for unvaccinated?
Austria will tighten Covid measures from September 15th. Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

The announcement came amid rising infection rates and hospitalisations, including in ICUs. 

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said at the press conference “the answer has to be vaccination and not lockdown”. 

Kurz said the measures would apply to the unvaccinated only, in order to protect them and to protect hospitals from becoming overloaded. 

Despite this, some measures apply both to vaccinated and unvaccinated people. 

Kurz cited Denmark – where 86 percent of people are vaccinated and almost all measures have been relaxed as the government declared the pandemic over – as the model Austria should look to follow. 

Austria also promised an increase in regular checks by police to ensure the measures are adhered to. 

Stiff fines have also been rolled out. 

READ MORE: What are the fines for breaching the tightened mask rules in Austria?

Testing

From September 15th, antigen tests will only be valid for 24 hours. This has been the case in Vienna for some time, however these tests had a 48-hour validity in the rest of the country. 

Masks

Unvaccinated people will be required to wear FFP2 masks in non-essential shops such as clothing retailers, stationery shops and other retailers where non-essential items are sold. 

On Tuesday it also emerged unvaccinated people will have to wear a FFP2 mask in museums, libraries, libraries and archives. However, in concerts and in the theatre, a test is sufficient.

Those who are vaccinated will not need to wear a mask in these areas, although masks are still recommended. 

One change which applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people is that FFP2 masks will again be required in supermarkets and public transport; currently, only cloth face coverings are required here. 

Further measures? 

Stricter measures were also laid out if ICU capacity is further limited. 

Kurz had announced the bed occupancy in the intensive care units should become the new lead indicator for Covid-19 measures instead of the seven-day incidence. 

READ MORE: Can employers in Austria ask if staff are vaccinated against Covid-19?

If more than 15 percent of capacity is reached for seven successive days, unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed into nightclubs and larger events, i.e. events with more than 500 people without assigned seats. 

Only those who are vaccinated or who have recently recovered from the virus will be allowed to enter. 

This means that people cannot enter with proof of a negative test. 

Also, so-called self tests will no longer be accepted as proof of a negative test (in areas where negative tests are still accepted). 

If more than 20 percent of ICU capacity is reached for seven successive days, antigen tests will no longer be valid for bars, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers and other areas where the 3G rule applies, with only those who have been vaccinated, recently recovered or who have taken a negative PCR test allowed to enter.  

Austria’s federal states are free to put in place stricter rules if they deem them necessary. 

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COVID-19 STATS

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, with 2,428 people currently hospitalised with the disease, including 118 in intensive care (ICU).

One month ago, just 871 people were being treated in hospital with an additional 47 people in ICU.

The Austrian Federal Government has now said they will make a decision on bringing back the mask mandate by October 23rd. Last week, the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) recommended wearing FFP2 masks.

According to ORF, the mask mandate could return for public indoor spaces, public transport and in the gastronomy sector. The Austrian Trade Association has already rejected the suggestion saying it would be the “last straw” for employees as the industry struggles with staff shortages.

What are the Covid-19 experts predicting for the autumn and winter season?

The latest report from the Covid prognosis consortium in Austria predicts a rise in hospitalisations in October. 

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.

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