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COVID-19 HEALTH PASS

NEW: Austria brings in new Covid-19 measures as patient numbers rise

New pandemic rules for Austria came into force on Wednesday. Here's what you need to know.

Wearing FFP2 masks will now also be compulsory in stores and on public transport. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)
An elderly woman shopping in a supermarket in Vienna. Inflation is pushing prices up in Austria. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Austria is currently considered to be at level one in terms of its ICU capacity. This level is defined as 200 intensive care beds currently being used for Covid-19 patients, which was reached on Tuesday. The changes mean that from Wednesday, September 15th: 

  • Antigen tests are only valid for 24 hours instead of 48 hours after the test was taken (this does not affect schoolchildren with a Ninja pass or people coming into Austria from another country).
  • Hospital grade FFP2 masks must be worn instead of normal facemarks in essential retail shops and on public transport.
  • For those who have not been vaccinated, wearing an FFP2 mask is also mandatory in non-essential retail and in cultural institutions.
  • Cultural institutions with an FFP2 mask requirement for unvaccinated people include: museums, art halls, libraries and archives. At concerts, in the theatre and cinema, however, the FFP2 mask requirement does not apply to unvaccinated persons with valid 3G proof. The exception is Vienna, where masks covering the mouth and nose must be worn by all visitors in all cultural institutions.
  • Proof of vaccination, negative test or recovery from Covid-19 (the 3G rule) is required for events and gatherings of 25 people or more.

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Commuters will have to get used to wearing FFP2 masks again on public transport. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The new mask requirement in retail has led to criticism from Austrian trade association, who asked Economics Minister Margarete Schramböck about how the regulations would be enforced. The Ministry of Health says it has asked shop owners to post signs, make random checks and provide masks and information material. The police and health authorities are also authorised to make spot checks.

Trade association chairman Rainer Will has criticized this move according to the Wiener Zietung newspaper.

He said there was a “general legal uncertainty”, pointing out according to the Covid-19 Measures Act, shopkeepers could face penalties of up to 3,600 euros if they did not comply with the new regulations.

He also said it was not realistic to ask shopkeepers to query health data. Anita Palkovich, the economic sector secretary of the GPA union responsible for trade, said there was “great anger” among employees about the new rules for the food retail sector, the Der Standard newspaper reports.

People may not need to wear masks at weddings if they show evidence of a negative test, recovery or vaccination.(Photo by DAVID GANNON / AFP)

FFP2 masks needed for church

At Catholic church services, FFP2 masks are again mandatory from Wednesday. There is no minimum distance to be observed, and there are no restrictions on congregational singing. In the case of “celebrations for one-off occasions” such as baptisms, first communions, confirmations and weddings, the mask requirement can be replaced by the 3G rule by agreement.

Excluded from the mask requirement are children up to the age of six and people who, with medical confirmation, cannot wear an MNS (a mask covering the mouth and nose) for health reasons. Pregnant women and children from six to 14 are allowed to wear an MNS  instead of the FFP2 mask, the church said. There is no obligation to wear a mask for church services in the open air.

What could come next if the numbers in intensive care in Austria continue to rise?

If level two is reached, meaning 300 Covid-19 patients are in intensive care beds nationwide, Austria will introduce further measures. The next step would mean only those with a Covid-19 vaccination or proof of recovery could go to night clubs and late night restaurants and cafes (the 2-G rule).

Stage three, at which point antigen tests would no longer be valid, but unvaccinated people with no certificate of recovery would be forced to show PCR tests to access venues, will be implemented if intensive care bed occupancy rises to 400.

Member comments

  1. There are many people living in Austria who are not registered.
    They do not have e-crds.
    How can they get vaccinated?They are afraid of being tracked and deported.
    obviously they do not frequent discos, museums or concert halls.
    They are circulating all around us posing a health issue that needs to be addressed.

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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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