Austria to open shops on last advent Sunday after lockdown

Shops which have been closed during Austria's lockdown will get a rare chance to open on a Sunday, helping businesses to make up for lost turnover.

Shoppers on Vienna's busy Mariahilferstrasse in winter last year
Even stores in Vienna's famous shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse close on Sundays. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

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.

READ ALSO: When will Austria’s Covid lockdown end?

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.

READ ALSO: Seven weird things about life in Austria you need to get used to

“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.

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

“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.

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Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were ‘unconstitutional’

Austria's constitutional court found that banning unvaccinated people from going to hairdressers or cultural institutions was unconstitutional

Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were 'unconstitutional'

The Constitutional Court (VfGH) has found a regulation which stopped people from going to hairdressers in the second lockdown for the unvaccinated was unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal.

However, the Court of Justice did confirm it was admissible to distinguish between people with and without 2G evidence (proof they had recovered from or been vaccinated against Covid-19), meaning the lockdown for the unvaccinated was itself legal.

READ ALSO: Four options: These are Austria’s autumn Covid lockdown plans

As there were exceptions to the lockdown, allowing people without vaccinations to leave their homes to “cover the necessary basic needs of daily life”, this should have included trips to the hairdressers as part of these “basic needs” on a long term, the court ruled.

It clarified that the rules were at first supposed to last for 10 days, but as the lockdown got extended several times, lasting a total of 11 weeks, the “basic needs” evolved and should have included hairdresser visits.

According to the Constitutional Court, it was also illegal for the government to ban unvaccinated people from entering cultural institutions in autumn 2021.

In this case, the reason was that people were still allowed to go to church and other places of religion, which the court found was “in violation of equality”.

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

The court found the ban on entering sports facilities ordered by the Minister of Health during the first lockdown in March and April 2020 was also unlawful, as there was not sufficient justification, broadcaster ORF reported.

Strict Covid-19 measures

Austria was one of the countries which imposed several lockdown periods during the pandemic, as The Local reported. While some were aimed at the entire population, more recently, only those who didn’t get vaccinated against Covid-19 were prevented from going out of their homes without a justification (such as grocery shopping or emergencies).

The country had also imposed a Covid-19 vaccination mandate, but that was scrapped after new variants of the virus evolved into less severe cases of the disease, the government said.

Currently, there are few coronavirus restrictions in place. You can check out all the measures across Austria here.