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COVID-19

Austria lockdown: Which businesses are still open?

On November 22nd Austria was placed under a tight Covid lockdown again, but businesses deemed essential are still allowed to stay open. Here's your guide to the rules.

Austria lockdown: Which businesses are still open?
Most non-essential businesses are closed, but many can still offer takeaway food or Click & Collect for other services. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

The lockdown means that most non-essential businesses need to close. Certain shops are deemed necessary and are allowed to stay open; these include supermarkets, grocery stores, pet food stores, pharmacies and drugstores, banks, post offices, petrol stations, newsagents, and car and bicycle workshops. Non-essential retail stores may still offer Click and Collect services, allowing customers to order online or over the phone and collect goods at the store.

Within the catering industry, restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs have to close but they are allowed to offer take-away and delivery services are also still allowed. This includes alcoholic beverages, though these need to be sold sealed. Food and drinks purchased for take-away cannot be consumed within 50 metres of the business. Catering businesses that are part of another essential service, for example company canteens in workplaces, and restaurants within hospitals or elderly care homes, are an exception to the rule and may remain open, but only for the people resident or working at the site.

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

Hotels are closed to tourists, although anyone already in Austria on a tourist visit at the time of the lockdown is allowed to complete their stay. Hotels may also stay open for people travelling on essential business trips or for other reasons if someone urgently needs accommodation.

Services that require close physical contact need to close, including hairdressers, beauty salons and massage salons.

The vast majority of cultural and leisure venues will also be closed for the duration of the lockdown: theatres, cinemas, museums, libraries, public swimming pools, amusement parks, and indoor play areas will all have their doors closed. Drive-in cinemas are one of the only permitted cultural offerings.

Austria’s Christmas markets are closed.

Professional sports events may take place in some situations, but with no spectators allowed.

Other events are banned, although there exceptions for demonstrations, religious events, professional meetings that cannot be postponed or held remotely, and medical or psychological self-help groups.

One change from earlier drafts of the plan is that skiing will remain possible during the lockdown, albeit with a 2G (proof of vaccination or recovery) requirement for cable cars and an FFP2 mask mandate in enclosed gondolas and cable cars.

READ ALSO: How Austria has reacted to the new nationwide lockdown

Most workplaces are not officially closed by law, although home-working is recommended by the government if at all possible to do so and state employees have been sent home. For people still attending the workplace, the 3G rule introduced at the start of November still applies, so they will need to provide proof of vaccination, recovery from Covid-19 or a recent negative test. FFP2 masks are also required at the workplace.

Hospitals and nursing homes of course remain open throughout the lockdown, but with stricter rules on visitors. Any visitor must adhere to the 2G+ rule, meaning they need proof of vaccination or recovery and a recent negative PCR test. There are also limits on visitor numbers: one visitor per patient per week in hospitals and two visitors per resident per day in nursing homes, though for minors and some especially vulnerable people these limits can be increased.

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COVID-19 STATS

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, with 2,428 people currently hospitalised with the disease, including 118 in intensive care (ICU).

One month ago, just 871 people were being treated in hospital with an additional 47 people in ICU.

The Austrian Federal Government has now said they will make a decision on bringing back the mask mandate by October 23rd. Last week, the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) recommended wearing FFP2 masks.

According to ORF, the mask mandate could return for public indoor spaces, public transport and in the gastronomy sector. The Austrian Trade Association has already rejected the suggestion saying it would be the “last straw” for employees as the industry struggles with staff shortages.

What are the Covid-19 experts predicting for the autumn and winter season?

The latest report from the Covid prognosis consortium in Austria predicts a rise in hospitalisations in October. 

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.

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