The news came after the government on Tuesday officially extended the lockdown for an extra ten days, meaning December 11th will be the final day of the nationwide general lockdown (unless it is further extended, something the government has pledged not to do).
The extension was expected but needed to be done, since Austria’s Covid laws only allow the government to implement lockdown for a ten-day period at a time.
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There are no big changes to the rules during the second half of the lockdown, except that from Thursday, essential shops will close early at 7pm rather than a latest permitted closing time of 9pm.
After lockdown however, non-essential businesses have been given the green light to open on the final Sunday of advent (December 19th) between 10am and 6pm despite Austria’s usually strict Sunday closing laws.
This will be the case as long as the pandemic situation allows, and will depend on regional governors also allowing it — of course individual businesses can then make their own decision on whether to open.
Retail workers’ union GPA said the one-off exception should not be seen as a move towards Sunday opening more generally. It also stated that retail workers who opt to work on this day will earn double pay plus an extra day off, any childcare costs must be covered, and working on the Sunday should be strictly voluntary.
“For the second year, Covid again creates an absolutely special situation just before Christmas. Around half of retail employees are affected by multiple lockdowns, by short-time working and wage losses due to the elimination of bonuses in the run-up to Christmas, and are concerned about their future. Many colleagues are therefore not averse to working on this Sunday as an exception,” union chairperson Barbara Teiber said.
The change only applies to those businesses which were closed during lockdown (with only Click & Collect services allowed), so for example clothes, books, furniture and leisure stores, but not supermarkets or pharmacies.
“This will not change our attitude towards non-working Sundays for all retail employees and we will resolutely oppose any softening or extension of the opening times,” another GPA union spokesperson, Martin Müllauer, said.
Austria and in particular the capital region Vienna has frequently had debates on Sunday opening over the years, with churches and unions generally supportive of the current rules, but many businesses keen to extend their own opening hours.