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COVID-19

‘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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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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