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COVID-19

Covid-19: First Austrian state relaxes test and mask rules in schools

Voralberg has become the first Austrian state to relax its rules on mask-wearing and testing in schools, as of Monday October 11th.

School pupils with backpacks and face masks
School pupils wear face masks in a classroom; no longer a necessity from today in Vorarlberg. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP

“Vorarlberg is once again a pilot region where normalization steps are being tested and carefully monitored,” the region said in a statement announcing the changes.

Under the new rules, children and teachers will not have to wear masks in school, and antigen tests for students will now be carried out on a voluntary basis, whereas previously they were carried out three times weekly.

The voluntary test offering means children can still use the tests for the so-called ‘Ninja pass’, which is required for those aged over 12 to enter restaurants and other venues under the 3G rule.

However, teachers who have not been vaccinated will see no change in the testing regulations and therefore still need to show a negative PCR test once a week.

External visitors will need to adhere to the 3G rule and to wear a face mask during the entire time they are in the school.

The change comes due to the low seven-day incidence in the region and the comparatively low rate of Covid-19 patients in the intensive care units. 

But if a school suspects an outbreak due to the results of voluntary tests or tests carried out outside the school, there is still the option to introduce a temporary test or mask mandate for specific classes for up to one week. This requires asking the region’s educational board for approval. And schools which are carrying out tests as part of sentinel testing will continue to do so, to help the region identify potential outbreaks at an early stage.

Back in spring, the western state of Vorarlberg became the first to re-open pubs and restaurants, as well as relaxing event rules, due to its comparatively low infection rate. 

“Vorarlberg will thus become a model region again,” state governor Barbara Schöbi-Fink said in response to the Coronavirus Commission’s decision last Thursday to classify Voralberg as risk level one, which allows the changes in schools to go ahead.

However, Schöbi-Fink said it was still recommended that everyone get tested for Covid-19 regularly as part of nationwide efforts to curb the spread of infection.

Member comments

  1. Where can i find covid info, vacination rates, covid infections etc. by each of the nine federated states? We will be travelling to Vorarlberg and the Zillertal area and Saalbach.

    1. Hi Bruce, I would recommend these two dashboards provided by Austrian authorities: https://covid19-dashboard.ages.at/ and https://info.gesundheitsministerium.gv.at/
      You can of course also follow The Local’s updates in English, which you will find all in one place at https://thelocal.at/tag/covid-19. It’s always helpful to hear reader feedback of what you would like us to include in these so that we can make them more helpful for you.
      Catherine

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COVID-19 VACCINES

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.

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