Salzburg tightens Covid measures after ‘very high risk’ classification

Salzburg on Friday increased its Covid-19 restrictions, including an FFP2 mask mandate in retail, after the region was moved into the "red" or "very high risk" category due to its infection rate.

A hairdresser and customer wearing face masks at a hair salon
A hairdresser and her customer wear FFP2 masks at an Austrian salon. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP

The new measures will be in force from Monday, October 18th, and mean that people in Salzburg must wear an FFP2 mask while inside any retail store.

The masks must also be worn by all customers in businesses that require a close contact with stuff, such as hairdressers, beauty salons, and masseurs. These businesses are sometimes called “body-hugging services” in Austria, a translation from the German körpernahe which roughly means “close physical contact”.

Currently the rule is that everyone must wear the masks in essential stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies, but only people without proof of vaccination or recovery need to wear them in other retail venues, but the new rule covers everyone regardless of vaccination status.

Salzburg follows Vienna in tightening its measures, after the capital mandated FFP2 masks in retail in September amid rising incidence rates.

Salzburg’s rule change has no time limit, but state health official Christian Stöckl said at a press briefing announcing the new measures: “If the situation improves again, it could be lifted.”

It comes after the state was classed as “very high risk” due to its seven-day incidence rate of 204 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people, which contributed to its overall risk figure rising to 103.1, pushing it into the very high risk category.

In addition to the new state-wide restrictions, the municipality St Koloman has been issued with a mandatory exit tests.

This means that anyone who leaves the municipality, other than freight transport, needs to show proof of 2.5G (full vaccination against Covid-19, recovery from the virus, or a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours). 

Stöckl said the extra measures in St Koloman were due to an outbreak linked to two weddings, as well as the municipality’s full vaccination rate of only 40.4 percent, the lowest in Salzburg.

“We will use the next few days to provide residents with more information about Covid-19 and the effects of vaccinations. Together with the State of Salzburg and the Red Cross, we have succeeded in setting up a test station and our own vaccination campaigns in the village,” the town’s mayor Herbert Walkner said.

Unlike the mask rule change, the exit tests do have an end date, and will initially be in place until at least October 31st.

But Stöckl warned that other municipalities with a high incidence rate, including some close to St Koloman, may be issued with exit test rules if deemed necessary.

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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.