What are the travel rules between Austria and the UK right now?

Following the discovery of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, the UK has once again tightened the border. Meanwhile, Austria is still in lockdown. Here’s what you need to know about travel between the two countries.

A man arrives at Heathrow's Terminal 5 in west London on November 30strictions on travellers are introduced. - All passengers en
The rules for entering both the UK and Austria have changed recently, so here's a reminder. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

After a brief relaxation of Covid-19 border restrictions in the UK, travel to the country has become difficult again following the emergence of the Omicron variant and its rapid spread across the world. 

Then there is the ongoing national lockdown in Austria to consider – just as British citizens plan trips home for Christmas.

So what are the travel rules right now between Austria and the UK? 

Travel to the UK from Austria

Since the discovery of the new Omicron variant in late November, the UK government has reintroduced pre-departure testing, day two testing and quarantine requirements for arrivals.

The pre-departure tests, which were scrapped only weeks ago before their reintroduction, must be taken within two days of travel to the UK. They can be PCR or antigen tests and must be carried out by all travellers regardless of their vaccination status.

READ MORE: What travellers from Europe to UK need to know about new Covid test rules

The requirement applies for those aged 12 and over arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On November 27th the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced that day two PCR tests and self-isolation for all UK arrivals would be reintroduced and the requirements came into force at 4am on Tuesday, November 30th.

This means that people arriving in the UK from Austria need to book and take PCR tests instead of lateral flow tests, which will no longer be accepted.

Travellers need to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arriving in the UK and self-isolate until a negative test result is received.

What does self-isolation in the UK mean?

Self-isolation is basically a quarantine, although for people arriving from Austria this can be done at home.

The rules state people can only leave home to buy essential supplies, such as food or medication (but only if no-one else can buy them for you), to take a test or for urgent medical care. If you are staying with family, they do not need to isolate but should keep a distance.

The potential problem with this change is that the UK testing system has been beset with problems.

For example, at least one private testing company is being investigated for failure to deliver PCR test results on time – or in some cases at all – meaning people could be stuck in quarantine for a long time.

Another private testing provider is being looked into for providing thousands of incorrect negative results.

And Which? travel editor Rory Boland has expressed concern that the day two test rule is unclear for both travellers and airlines, which could disrupt trips for travellers to the UK.

Finally, all travellers to the UK will need to fill in a Passenger Locator Form, up to 48 hours before starting the journey.

Travel to Austria from the UK

As Austria is currently in a national lockdown, travel to the country for tourism is not allowed. The lockdown is set to end for vaccinated residents this weekend, with December 12th the first day of no lockdown.

However, international residents of Austria are allowed to enter the country, as long as their residency and visa documents are up to date.

For British travellers, this means carrying the Article 50 Card (post-Brexit residency card) or official confirmation of application if you have not yet received the card or a relevant visa/residency document, for example a residence permit for Brits who arrived after the Brexit transition period, or proof of EU citizenship for Brits with dual citizenship.

FOR MEMBERS: Is it possible to travel to Austria during the new Covid lockdown?

Arrivals in Austria from the UK also need to show proof of full vaccination, a negative PCR test that is no older than 72 hours (for all people aged 12 and over) or proof of recovery of Covid-19 in the past 180 days.

However, people with a negative PCR test have to register for pre-travel clearance and then self-isolate at home for 10 days after arrival, with the option to take an additional test after five days to end the quarantine early.

Those with proof of vaccination or recovery do not need to self-isolate.

In order to use proof of vaccination as your entry proof for Austria, as of December 6th this is only valid for 270 days after a second dose of a two-dose vaccine, in line with the 2G rule explained above. This means that if you had your second dose earlier than that, you will either need proof of a booster dose to enter Austria, or will need to use another proof such as a negative test.

Travel during the lockdown in Austria

Under the lockdown rules during winter of 2020/2021, Austrian residents were clearly allowed to leave Austria to visit close family members, partners or for professional reasons. 

READ ALSO: Travellers from Europe to US face tougher Covid test restrictions

They will also not be prevented from returning, provided their residency permits and visas remain valid. 

Whether you can leave Austria to go on holiday however remains a little less clear. 

While the government does not want to encourage people to head abroad on holidays by expressly saying this is permitted, there is little the government can do to prevent you from leaving, and the Covid laws do not prevent people from travelling for tourism. 

Constitutional and administrative lawyer Peter Bußjäger told Kurier during the previous lockdown that trips abroad are “officially not forbidden” and that an effort to fine someone for going on vacation “would probably not hold up in court”. 

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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.