‘An uncomfortable Christmas’: When will Austria’s Covid lockdown end?

Whether you live in Austria or are hoping to visit this winter, this is a pressing question.

Workers clean ground and tables Vienna
Will the lockdown actually end on December 13th - and what will replace it? Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Austria is currently under a nationwide lockdown, which means non-essential businesses are closed, tourism is de-facto on hold, and people are only supposed to leave their house for essential purposes. 

When announcing the measure, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said the lockdown would be in effect for a “maximum” of 20 days from November 22nd, meaning December 12th would mark the end of the lockdown.

To begin with, it is place for ten days pending an evaluation, which is because a full lockdown is such a restrictive measure that the government cannot implement it for more than ten days at a time, under law. While there may be a review of the details of the rules at this point, it is unlikely the lockdown will be lifted after the first ten days given the initial government statement and the continuing upward trend in both Covid cases and intensive care admissions.

So 20 days is what we’ve been told to expect, though it’s worth noting that Austria has form for extending its lockdowns, including during last winter. Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said on Wednesday that there was no change planned this time. 

READ ALSO: Which businesses are still open during Austria’s lockdown?

When the national lockdown is lifted, there are a few things to bear in mind.

After this point, regions may introduce their own measures going beyond those in place nationally. Upper Austria has already said it will have a full lockdown in place until December 17th, about a week longer than the national lockdown, due to the severity of the Covid situation in the region. This could also be the case in Salzburg, which like Upper Austria announced its own lockdown before the national one, but it is not yet confirmed there. 

And when the nationwide general lockdown is lifted, as things stand, Austria would return to a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people only. This has been in place since November 15th, and means that proof of 2G (vaccination or recovery from Covid) is required to leave home for non-essential reasons, or to access non-essential businesses including many retail stores and restaurants.

IN PICTURES: Life in Vienna under new Austrian lockdown

Schallenberg said this week that there was “no end date” set for the lockdown for the unvaccinated, and has previously said that Christmas for this group will be “uncomfortable”.

As for what restrictions will be in place after the general lockdown for people who do have 2G proof, we don’t know this yet. It could be a return to the rules before the lockdown (masks required in many public places, and 2G required for entry to restaurants, hotels, and events, for example), or there may be additional restrictions introduced as a halfway point.

That could mean evening curfews for everyone, or 2G+ rules (requirement for vaccination or recovery and a negative Covid test) for entry to some venues — the latter was introduced in Vienna for bars, clubs and events three days before the national lockdown. 

For travellers coming to Austria for tourism from abroad, it’s important to keep up to date with entry regulations as well as domestic Covid rules. These aren’t directly affected by the lockdown, so as things stand, it will be possible to enter Austria again for tourism from December 12th.

READ ALSO: What are the rules for entering Austria right now?

If the current entry rules stay the same, people travelling from countries on the low-risk list would need to show proof of 2.5G to enter, and travellers from countries not on the low-risk list who used a negative test as their entry proof (ie. those without proof of vaccination or recovery) would need to complete a pre-travel clearance form and quarantine for at least five days.

There are more lenient requirements for people travelling for certain reasons, including for work or urgent family reasons. In these cases, antigen tests are accepted, and they do not need to quarantine even if travelling from countries not on the low-risk list.

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Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria's autumn Covid-19 plan includes a fourth Covid-19 dose to all those older than 12 and the Health Ministry doesn't rule out further measures, especially a return of the mask mandate.

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria’s Health Ministry and the country’s National Immunisation Panel (NIG) have recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population ahead of autumn.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) and physician Herwig Kollaritsch of the Immunisation Panel have requested people take the vaccination before the cold months, reiterating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protects against more severe courses of the disease.

“You can do a lot before autumn. Don’t wait until the numbers rise. Get vaccinated, take the booster shots”, Kollaritsch said in a press conference this Wednesday, August 31st.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The previous recommendation was only for people older than 60 or those in risk groups. “After there was already the booster recommendation for the vulnerable and over 60-year-olds over the summer, all other groups are to get a booster in the coming weeks,” the health minister said.

Only 58.9 percent of the population is currently sufficiently vaccinated, as per the recommendation of the National Immunisation Panel (NIG) – which for the majority of the population is three doses – or if they’ve had Covid then two doses and a recent recovered status.

New measures ahead of autumn

The health minister stopped short of announcing new Covid-19 measures for autumn.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country back in May, Rauch had said the suspension would be “temporary” and masks were likely to return after summer, depending on the pandemic, particularly on hospitalisation numbers.

Currently, masks are obligatory in the health sector and on public transport in Vienna.

“We evaluate the situation weekly by talking with the hospital heads in the states. We have a very good view of the Covid-19 data, and we don’t rule out bringing measures back in the future”, he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

He added: “It is likely that in the autumn, compulsory masks will again be useful and necessary in certain areas such as public transport or supermarkets,”.

For now, though, the minister said he recommends people to get vaccinated, wear masks where social distancing is not possible, and get tested regularly – even if those measures are not mandatory.

When should you get vaccinated?

The fourth vaccination should come a minimum of four months after the third one (or after a Covid-19 infection) but not after six months of the third dose (regardless of whether or not the person has had an infection after the last vaccine), according to the NIG.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Which Austrian states will allow Covid-infected teachers in classrooms?

For children between five and eleven years of age, the basic immunisation – which consists of three vaccinations – should be completed by the start of school at the latest; no booster vaccination is currently recommended in this age group.

Austria expects vaccines adapted to the omicron variant to arrive in the country before the end of September, the health minister said.