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COVID-19

Salzburg and Upper Austria to go into full Covid lockdown

The regions of Salzburg and Upper Austria will introduce a lockdown for the entire population starting on Monday, which regional leaders said would last for "several weeks" but would hopefully be over by Christmas.

Salzburg and Upper Austria to go into full Covid lockdown
Salzburg and Upper Austria will place their entire populations under lockdown for "several weeks", regional leaders confirmed. Photo: Mylène Larnaud/Unsplash

There is no longer any alternative than to order a full lockdown in the region, Salzburg’s governor Wilfried Haslauer told a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

“We have considered a lockdown to be a significant infringement on the public, but now we are left with no other choice,” he said.

The length of the lockdown is not yet confirmed, but Haslauer said it would last at least three weeks, and most likely four. As in previous lockdowns, it would be possible to leave home only for essential purposes including food shopping, exercise, and accessing medical care including vaccinations. Hotels, restaurants and retail stores will close.

He urged everyone in the region who is eligible to get their first vaccine doses as well as boosters, “so that we can get out of this lockdown as soon as possible, before Christmas if at all possible”. Salzburg this week followed Vienna in making booster doses possible from four months after the second dose.

Haslauer also said that all municipalities in Salzburg would be offering vaccination seven days a week.

He noted that as of Monday, Salzburg already has the strictest measures in Austria, but said: “The time it takes for these to take effect is time that our hospitals do not have.”

“Lockdown is an effective short-term measure, but it is not a solution. Vaccination is the only solution,” he said.

During the lockdown, schools will also be closed with a return to home-learning, although students with additional learning needs or who need to go to school (for example if their parents work in essential jobs) will still be able to attend in-person.

As of Thursday afternoon, Salzburg has 31 Covid-19 patients receiving intensive care treatment in hospital, 27 of them unvaccinated, said Christian Stöckl, the region’s deputy governor and health councillor. The remaining four all had a higher than average risk of illness from Covid-19 due to their age or health conditions.

Haslauer said that he preferred for consistent measures across the country, but would not comment on whether he wanted to see a nationwide lockdown, telling a reporter: “I would have preferred that we did not need this measure at all.”

Upper Austria governor Thomas Stelzer confirmed on Thursday morning that both regions would go into lockdown next week, regardless of what is decided on Friday for the national measures.

“We don’t have much leeway, to say the least. We have very, very little leeway,” Stelzer said.

“If there is no nationwide lockdown, Upper Austria and Salzburg will go into lockdown from next week,” said Stelzer, adding that he would advocate for the measure to be imposed nationwide at Friday’s meeting between the government and regional leaders.

Stelzer did not give a specific timeframe for the lockdown, but said that it would last for multiple weeks. A press conference was scheduled for 5.30pm.

The announcement comes as Austria is in the first week of a nationwide ten-day lockdown for people without 2G (proof of either full vaccination against Covid-19 or recent recovery from the virus). This partial lockdown is enforced with police patrols, but has been criticised as being divisive and difficult to control.

The Green Party in Salzburg have called for a full lockdown in the region, as have several intensive care doctors, due to the severe level of the spread of the virus.

In Vienna, which has the country’s lowest incidence rate but is still classed as “very high risk” by the Corona Commission, mayor Michael Ludwig said on Wednesday afternoon that he “could not rule out” another lockdown.

“I don’t want [Vienna] to end up in the same situation as other regions,” Ludwig told reporters when asked about a possible general lockdown.

On Thursday, Austria reported 15,145 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, reaching another all-time high.

Covid-19 in Austria: Follow the latest developments as they happen

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COVID-19 ALERT

‘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.

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