As Covid-19 case numbers continue to rise across the country, contact tracing efforts are being stepped up. But there are different quarantine rules, largely depending on a person’s vaccination status.
Here’s what to expect from contact tracing this winter.
What is contract tracing?
Contact tracing is used to identify people that have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. It’s a method used in countries around the world to help slow the spread of the virus, because it helps to “break the chain” of infections, which is especially important since people can spread Covid-19 even if they don’t experience symptoms.
Austria has a contact tracing app – “Stopp Corona” – that has been developed by the Austrian Red Cross. It notifies users that have been within two metres of someone that tested positive for Covid-19 for 15 minutes or longer.
The app has two alert levels – red and yellow. If a user receives a red alert it means they might have to quarantine (see rules below). The yellow alert means they should reduce contact with others and monitor their health.
Contact tracing in Austria is also carried out via phone after people test positive for Covid-19, and each region has its own system. Usually, people who test positive are asked to give contact tracers the details of everyone they had close contact with as well as places they went. Restaurants and bars should ask all customers to register when they arrive, so you could get contacted if someone you were in close proximity to at a restaurant tests positive for example.
In Upper Austria, contact tracing efforts are currently being strengthened due to a rise in cases and 60 soldiers from the Austrian army have been drafted in to help with making calls.
In October, almost 40,000 quarantine notices were issued in Upper Austria alone and the police carried out 5,000 home checks, as reported by ORF. There are currently 15,000 people in quarantine in the state.
What are the rules for vaccinated or recovered people?
For people that are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or have recovered from the virus in the past six months, there is usually no need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of an infected person.
They will usually fall into the “category 2 contact person”.
However, vaccinated or recovered people are advised to limit their contact with others, keep a record of who they do have contact with, and pay close attention to their own health and potential symptoms until the end of the tenth day after contact with the Covid-positive person.
This is in line with other government rules that allow more freedom for vaccinated and recovered people in comparison to those that are unvaccinated, and is based on the fact that vaccination or recovering from the virus reduces the likelihood of both catching and passing on the virus.
Of course, if you do develop any symptoms that could be consistent with Covid-19, you should follow national guidelines by getting tested and isolating.
What are the rules for unvaccinated people?
If an unvaccinated person comes into close contact with someone who has Covid-19, they will usually be classed as a “category 1 contact person” which means they have to quarantine at home for ten days. There is an option to leave quarantine after five days if they test negative for Covid-19 using a PCR test.
If an unvaccinated person had lower risk contact with the person who tested positive, for example if they were sitting near to the positive person on a plane or train but were not a direct neighbour, or if they met them but at a distance of more than two metres, then they will be treated as a “category 2 contact person” and do not need to quarantine. The contact tracers will tell you which category you fall into.
During the quarantine, you may not leave your home or place of residence or have anyone enter your home. If that’s not possible, for example if you share accommodation with someone, you should keep a distance from them as much as possible, such as by staying in different rooms, using bathrooms and kitchens separately and so on.
There is no exception, not even for going to buy food or medicines, so you should either organise this yourself through home delivery or assistance from friends or neighbours, or call the Red Cross on 0800 600 600.
The Austrian authorities are strict on this requirement and the police are authorised to do home checks on those that have been instructed to quarantine. This means officers could arrive unannounced at a home to check the person is complying with the quarantine rules.
People with a negative test that break quarantine rules can be fined up to €1,450 if they are caught by police. But if someone with a positive Covid-19 test breaks quarantine, they could face up to three years in prison.