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.
“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.
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.
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 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.
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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.