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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‘The pandemic is not over’: Vienna keeps mask rule in public transport

Austria's capital has decided to keep mandatory FFP2 masks in public transport but is dropping them in supermarkets.

'The pandemic is not over': Vienna keeps mask rule in public transport

Austria’s capital Vienna will still have mandatory usage of FFP2 masks even if the federal government is dropping the requirement in the rest of the country.

It will still be mandatory in Vienna to wear masks when public transport, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, SPÖ Mayor Michael Ludwig announced this Tuesday.

People no longer will need to wear masks in supermarkets and other essential trade, though. The decision was taken after a meeting with the city crisis committee and health authorities, according to the mayor.

“The pandemic is not over yet. We will remain on the consistent and safe path”, Ludwig said.

Earlier this Tuesday, Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) had announced the country would “pause” mask requirements from June 1st in all but health establishments during the summer months, as reported.

READ ALSO: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

Rauch justified the decision by saying that the coronavirus numbers, both of new infections and of hospitalised people, have significantly dropped and maintained a downwards trend for weeks.

“The number of new infections has fallen, as well as the number of people in hospitals due to Covid-19, for several weeks now. This is good news”, he said.

Since the last major easing step in mid-April, the FFP2 obligation has only been in force in enclosed spaces of hospitals and homes, public transport and taxis, in the customer area of vital trade, in party traffic of administrative authorities and in institutions for the practice of religion outside trade fairs.

However, the federal government sets out the minimum standard for the country, but the different states may adopt stricter measures. Vienna has often kept tougher regulations during the pandemic, including a more extended period when only vaccinated or recovered people were allowed in bars and restaurants.

Vaccination campaign

The Viennese mayor also commented on the suspended vaccine mandate law, stating that vaccination protects and the city would have a “corresponding vaccination campaign soon”.

Ludwig added that he would demand the same from the federal government. “All of this is done to protect the health of the Viennese population”, he said.

Austria this Tuesday reported 2,177 new coronavirus infections after 185,230 PCR tests, according to the Health Ministry. Currently, there are 596 people hospitalised with Covid-19 and 57 in intensive care units.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,607 people have died from Covid-19 in the country.