Austria tightens Covid quarantine rules due to Omicron spread

Austria has significantly tightened its rules around quarantine after coming into contact with a Covid-19 positive person, in response to data showing the new Omicron variant is more transmissible.

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Vaccinated people previously often did not need to quarantine after contact with a Covid-19 person, but could now face a 14-day quarantine. Photo: Cristian Tarzi/Unsplash

Under the new rules, anyone who has come into contact with someone who tested positive for the Omicron variant is considered a ‘Category 1’ contact and has to quarantine for 14 days. There is no option to end the quarantine early with a negative PCR test result.

Under previous rules, the quarantine was set at ten days, and could be ended after five with a negative PCR test.

What’s more, for people who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or had recovered from the virus in the past 180 days, the quarantine was not mandatory, and they were considered ‘Category 2’ contacts instead (this level is also applied to ‘lower risk’ contacts, for example if you were on a train with someone who was positive but were not sitting very close to them). Instead, Category 2 people were asked to reduce their social contacts and be extra alert to symptoms.

The previous more lenient quarantine rules continue to apply for people who come into contact with someone who is positive for a different variant of Covid-19. The reason for the change is that the Austrian authorities are awaiting data on what level of protection vaccination and recovery give against the new variant.

READ ALSO: What are the current Covid rules in Austria?

During quarantine, you may not leave your home or place of residence or have anyone enter your home. If that’s not possible, for example if you share accommodation with someone, you need to keep a distance from them as much as possible, such as by staying in different rooms, using bathrooms and kitchens separately and so on.

There is no exception, not even for going to buy food or medicines, so you should either organise this yourself through home delivery or assistance from friends or neighbours, or call the Red Cross on 0800 600 600. Police are authorised to do home checks on those that have been instructed to quarantine, and you could face high fines if you break the quarantine rules.

All nine federal states are implementing these rules, as was confirmed by the Kurier and Die Presse newspapers. At the moment Omicron is not the dominant variant in Austria with only a few confirmed cases and some regions not having reported any.

Austria is not the only country to tighten its quarantine rules in response to Omicron. Switzerland has also made it mandatory for vaccinated people to isolate for ten days after contact or even suspected contact with an Omicron-positive person, while Spain has also imposed a ten-day quarantine rule regardless of vaccination status for people after close contact with those infected with the Omicron, Beta and Gamma variants.

READ MORE: Follow the latest Covid-19 developments in Austria as they happen

Member comments

  1. Be thankful. Here in Malta even though we have a 95% vaccination rate, 0.0006% ITU rate, and virtually a zero mortality rate we have to wear masks when we’re outside ALONE and are still under a plethora of restrictions. Hopefully Austria won’t make the same mistake as us and make pointless rules not based on any science.

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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.