Lockdown for the unvaccinated planned in Austria if Covid cases rise

As cases of coronavirus continue to rise in Austria, the country's Chancellor announced on Friday evening that tight restrictions could be imposed on those still unvaccinated.

Tighter measures are expected for the unvaccinated in Austria.
Tighter measures are expected for the unvaccinated in Austria. Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Tougher Covid restrictions are being considered for people yet to get their vaccines as Austria faces a worsening health situation, the country’s Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg stated in a press conference.

Following an emergency meeting with his Ministers, the country’s leader revealed a plan to protect an increasingly overwhelmed national healthcare system, as more and more Covid patients claim intensive care unit beds.

“It must be clear to all unvaccinated people that they carry not only responsibility for their own health, but also for that of their fellow human beings,” Schallenberg said in the conference.

EXPLAINED: How will Austria’s Covid rules change in November?

“We are about to stumble into a pandemic of the unprotected unvaccinated,” he told reporters.

Those who are neither vaccinated nor recovered must be prepared for tight restrictions in the last stage of the new plan, revealed Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein.

Austria’s Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg has announced a raft of new coronavirus restrictions to combat a worsening health situation. Photo by Jure Makovec / AFP.

In the most severe situation, the unvaccinated will only be able to leave their homes in specific circumstances.

With the new measures, the government is modifying the “phased plan”, which has been in place since mid-September, by adding two more levels.

This latest revision mainly targets the unvaccinated, but excludes those members of society who are exempt from getting a jab, such as children under 12.

It means that Austria’s risk level are set to expand from 1-3 levels to 1-5, based on the number of ICU spaces occupied.

READ ALSO: What are the Covid-19 rules and restrictions in Vienna now?

Varying risk levels already dictate the so-called ‘2G’ and ‘3G’ rules, based on the 3 ‘G’s – Geimpft (vaccinated), Genesen (recovered) and Getestet (tested negative), which depend both on your vaccination status and which region you’re in.

Extra risk levels will mean further criteria for being able to access certain parts of public life in Austria.

Events, cultural institutions, leisure facilities and sporting events are also expected to be impacted.

The latest levels are intended to drive more vaccinations. Photo by Alex Halada / AFP

The new levels: 4 and 5

Level 4 means that the threshold of 500 occupied ICU beds (25 per cent of intensive care capacity) is exceeded. In this instance, unvaccinated people will likely be denied entry into the catering and hotel industry, but details are still being worked out, according to the Ministry of Health.

In level 4, people will require 2G (proof of vaccination or recovery only) for so-called ‘night gastronomy’ venues and for events over 500 people.

Level 5, on the other hand, would mean a lockdown for unvaccinated people who would only be permitted to leave home for valid reasons.

This last level is introduced if the ICU occupancy rate exceeds 600 ICU beds (or 30 per cent occupancy).

No details have yet been given on how lockdowns will be controlled and checked for the unvaccinated, however.

According to the latest epidemiological figures, the occupancy rate of intensive care units with Covid patients in Austria is 220 beds, or about 11 percent.

This means that the country is currently at level 1 – the threshold of which is set at under 300 ICU beds occupancy.

A level of 33 percent is considered “critical”, only just above the threshold established for level 5.

However, Mückstein stated that authorities would make every effort to avoid that critical 33% mark.


Levels 1 to 3 to continue

Level 1 has been in force since mid-September, which brought back the obligation to wear FFP2 masks in supermarkets and other food shops, pharmacies and public transport.

You can enter other types of shops without a mask, such as clothing stores, unless you are neither vaccinated nor recovered. In this case, the FFP2 obligation still applies.

In Vienna, authorities tightened its Covid-19 measures this month, including requiring FFP2 masks to be worn in all non-essential retail stores and requiring proof of 2G (vaccination or recovery only, not a negative test) for entry to nightlife venues.

Level 2 is enforced seven days after the intensive care unit occupancy rate exceeds 15 per cent (300 beds) – something Mückstein stated he expects to happen soon.

In this case, the 2G rule for ‘night gastronomy’ and large events of more than 500 people would be activated.

If the occupancy rate reaches 20% (400 beds), this means a move to level 3 immediately. In 3G areas, only those who have been vaccinated, have recovered and those with a negative PCR test would be able to access restaurants, bars and cafes.

Requiring a PCR test in this circumstance is a change from the previously permitted antigen test, a measure that Vienna had already adopted.

Also speaking at the press conference was Tyrol’s governor Günther Platter (ÖVP), who appealed to all the unvaccinated to get their shots and spoke of the importance of booster vaccinations, especially for the vulnerable and elderly.

“There is also no question that we have to keep the restrictions for vaccinated people as low as possible,” he said.

“We see in other EU countries where the vaccination rate is high, that they are coming through this wave relatively well. That must also be our goal,” he added.

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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.