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COVID-19

Who, what, where: How Austria’s new 2G rule works

Unvaccinated people will now be refused entry to restaurants, hairdressers, and events in Austria, after a sweeping rule change effective from November 8th.

People wear FFP2 masks
FFP2 masks will be required in more areas, with a 2G rule mostly replacing the current 3G rule. Photo: David Gannon/AFP

Where do I need to show proof of 3G?

Proof of 2G (full vaccination or recovery) is required for customers and visitors in several areas:

  • Gastronomy (ie. restaurants, cafes, bars, whether indoor or outdoor, although employees can still use a test option)
  • Hotels
  • Services requiring close physical contact like hairdressers and beauty salons
  • Cinemas and theatres
  • Events for over 25 people, whether seated or standing
  • Visiting hospitals or care facilities (except for accompanying a childbirth, or visiting palliative or hospice care, where you can wear an FFP2 mask as an alternative to 2G)

For workplaces, where a 3G rule was recently introduced, PCR tests are still valid for entry.

Who needs to show proof of 2G?

The 2G rule applies from the age of 12, and children aged between 12 and 15 can continue to use tests and will be allowed entry, for example using the Ninja Pass which shows school tests. Vienna has stricter rules, with 2.5G applying from 12 to 15 (only negative PCR tests are accepted).

There are no other exemptions, except for people who for medical reasons have been advised against vaccination by a doctor.

This means that unvaccinated people will not be able to enter these areas. However, there is a four-week transition period for the introduction of this 2G rule, during which a negative PCR test in combination with proof of a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine will be sufficient. This will be in effect until December 6th.

How is 2G enforced?

Businesses are responsible for checking your proof of 2G when you arrive, often using the Green Check app which they can use to scan your QR code.

There are also an additional 800 police officers being brought in to join the 4,000 already working on checks of 2G.

Individuals who break the rules face fines of up to €500, while for businesses violation can lead to a €30,000 fine.

Where are FFP2 masks required?

  • Cultural venues like libraries and museums 
  • Cable cars
  • All retail venues
  • Public transport, and for customers in supermarkets and pharmacies (this is already the case)

In these venues, proof of 2G or 3G is not required.

How do I show my 2G proof?

To meet the 2G criteria, you will need proof of either two doses of an EMA-approved vaccine (Moderna, Pfizer or AstraZeneca — one dose of Johnson & Johnson will be considered as 2G until January) with the second dose no older than 270 days, or proof of recovery from Covid-19 within the last 180 days.

The validity of Austria’s Green Pass, the app used to show proof of vaccination, has also changed. People are now only considered fully vaccinated for nine months after their second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. The aim of this is to encourage take-up of the third dose, which is available to everyone from six months after their second dose.

And all exit checks — requirements to show proof of 3G in order to leave certain high-incidence municipalities — have been removed.

Why the change?

“The situation in Austria is serious, as in a number of other European countries. The dynamism is extraordinary and occupancy rates in the intensive care beds are increasing significantly faster than expected,” said Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg.

Both the rate of new Covid-19 cases (incidence rate) and the number of Covid patients requiring intensive care have risen sharply over the past week. On Friday, the Health Ministry reported 9,388 new cases in the previous 24 hours, not far off the all-time high and up from 5,861 last Friday — a 60 percent rise week-on-week.

This is combined with a low rate of vaccine take-up, meaning more people are at high risk of catching, spreading, and falling seriously ill with the virus.

The newly tightened measures are aimed at reducing the spread of the virus, ensuring that the healthcare sector can cope, and encouraging vaccination to increase protection long-term.

“In a car you put on your seatbelt [to protect yourself]. Vaccination is the seatbelt in the pandemic,” was how Schallenberg put it in the Friday evening press conference announcing the measures.

Several regions had already chosen to tighten their rules beyond the national measures, most notably Vienna which had already announced a 2G rule from November 8th before Friday’s meeting between the government and regions.

One of the criticisms of Austria’s response has been that the frequent changes and regional variation in restrictions are confusing to follow, so the latest regulation creates standardisation across the nine regions.

How does this fit in with the five-step plan?

It’s only a week since Austria last updated its staggered plan for Covid restrictions, introducing two extra stages to create a five-step plan.

Each stage was linked to a different level of ICU capacity being reached. This time last week, Austria was still in the first stage out of five, with around ten percent of intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients.

But last week it became clear that Austria would be entering the next stage as the number of Covid patients in ICUs approached 300, and this week the number climbed even more rapidly. 

The changes mean that the country is entering level 4, which was only added to the plan last week.

The next and final stage, level 5, would be a lockdown for unvaccinated people, who would only be permitted to leave their homes in certain circumstances. Under current rules, this last level is set to be introduced if the ICU occupancy rate exceeds 600 ICU beds (or 30 per cent occupancy).

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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