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COVID-19

Q&A: What will Austria’s Covid restrictions be over Christmas and New Year?

There have been a lot of rule changes to keep up with in Austria in recent days and weeks, so here's an overview of the restrictions that apply over the Christmas holidays.

Christmas market Vienna
For tourists and residents, there are several different rules to know about in Austria this festive season. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

What’s Austria’s 2G rule?

To understand the explanations that follow, the first thing you need to familiarise yourself with is Austria’s so-called 2G requirement. The ‘G’s are geimpft (vaccinated) and genesen (recovered, ie. from Covid-19) and you need to have proof that you fulfil one of these criteria in order to be exempt from the current lockdown and to access many parts of society.

To do that, you need either a medical certificate showing your recovery from Covid-19 within the past 180 days, or proof that you have received a full course of vaccination against Covid-19. That means you must have received either a second or third dose within the past 270 days. Up until January 3rd, a single dose of Johnson & Johnson is considered as valid proof of vaccination, after which you would need a second vaccine dose.

To make things more confusing, the exact definitions of accepted vaccines vary slightly depending on whether you’re looking at the rules for entering Austria or the domestic rules, for example to access restaurants or hotels. For the former, vaccines approved by the EMA or WHO are accepted; for the latter, only EMA-approved vaccines are considered valid proof. There are a few workarounds, for example people vaccinated with two doses of the Sputnik vaccine can get a booster of an mRNA vaccine and show the proof of this dose plus proof of antibodies to have valid 2G proof. You can read more detail on the 2G rules at the following links:

Can I travel to Austria?

To enter Austria from most countries, you need proof of 2G (two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine or recovery from the virus) as well as either proof of a booster dose or a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours on entry to Austria. 

If you do not have a booster or negative PCR test, you need to fill out a pre-travel clearance form before travel and enter quarantine on arrival until you can provide a negative PCR test result. Exemptions apply for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, pregnant people, and children under 12.

Austrian and EU/EEA residents and citizens are able to enter Austria without 2G proof, but in that case they must fill out the pre-travel clearance form and enter a ten-day quarantine on arrival, which can be ended after five days at the earliest with a negative PCR test result.

Stricter rules are in place for entry from so-called virus variant risk areas. At the time of publication, those were: Angola, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and the Tiroler Tageszeitung has reported that the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway will be added to this list from Friday December 24th. Entry to Austria from these countries is generally prohibited. Austrian and EU/EEA citizens, as well as people travelling for other essential reasons, may enter but need to fill out the pre-travel clearance form and enter a ten-day quarantine on arrival, which can be ended after five days at the earliest with a negative PCR test result.

You can find the pre-travel clearance form in English here.

Can I travel out of Austria to visit family abroad?

In most cases, yes, but you will need to follow the entry rules outlined above when you return.

Austria explicitly advises against travel to ten southern African countries, which means that if you travel there, your access to travel insurance may be affected, and it could also affect availability of flights. Those countries are: Angola, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Austria also strongly discourages non-essential travel to most non-EU countries, and even those within the EU 

It is also worth noting that the UK as well as many of Austria’s neighbours such as Italy and Germany have recently tightened rules on travel, which may mean you need to show a PCR test to be allowed entry or quarantine on arrival. Find out more about the travel rules by clicking here.

When returning from countries that aren’t on the virus variant risk list, Austrian and EU/EEA residents and citizens are able to enter Austria without 2G proof, but in that case they must fill out the pre-travel clearance form and enter a ten-day quarantine on arrival, which can be ended after five days at the earliest with a negative PCR test result.

Austrian and EU/EEA residents and citizens are allowed to enter Austria even from countries on the virus variant risk list, but in this case they must fill out the pre-travel clearance form and enter a ten-day quarantine on arrival, which can be ended after five days at the earliest with a negative PCR test result, even if they have 2G proof. The only exceptions to quarantine from a virus variant risk country are “people who arrive for unforeseeable, urgent, family reasons that are particularly worthy of consideration or for compulsory court or official appointments.”

Where do I need to wear a mask in Austria?

In most indoor public areas, including those which also have a 2G rule. That includes: all public transport; in restaurants and cafes except when seated at a table; at indoor public events over 25 people; in all shops including supermarkets and non-essential retail; at hairdressers and beauty salons; and in museums and hotels, for example.

Remember that in Austria, wherever there is a mask requirement the mask must be an FFP2 mask.

Are bars and restaurants open?

Restaurants are open with an 11pm curfew until at least early January. The one exception to this is December 31st when the nationwide curfew will be lifted (though regions do have the power to introduce their own curfew).

You need to wear a facemask except when seated at your table.

So-called night gastronomy (nightclubs and bars) are closed until at least early January.

What does the lockdown for unvaccinated people mean?

If you do not have proof of 2G (vaccination or recovery) then you are affected by Austria’s lockdown until at least January 1st.

This means you cannot enter venues such as non-essential retail stores, restaurants, or cultural facilities and should only leave your home for essential purposes such as food shopping or exercise.

There is an exception in place on December 24th, 25th, 26th and 31st to allow people to spend the holiday period with close friends or family: on these days, up to ten people may meet privately without needing 2G proof. You can find more detail on the lockdown by clicking here.

READ ALSO: How is Austria enforcing its lockdown for unvaccinated people?

How many people can I meet?

On December 24th, 25th and 26th as well as on December 31st, up to ten people will be allowed to meet privately without a requirement for 2G proof. Otherwise, people without 2G proof are under lockdown, and cannot meet other people for social purposes (unless they fall under the exemption for essential contact, for example if you live alone and are meeting with up to two members of one other household).

For people with proof of 2G, up to 25 people may meet privately over the Christmas period without needing to adhere to regulations for events.

Can I go skiing?

Ski resorts are open in Austria, unlike last winter, with Covid restrictions in place. That means you need proof of 2G to enter, and in lifts and cable cars. The ski season began in early December.

In gondolas and closed chair lifts, everyone aged over 15 needs an FFP2 mask and children aged between 7 and 14 should wear a face mask but it does not need to be FFP2.

Apres-ski bars remain closed until at least early January, but ordinary restaurants are open with the restrictions outlined above.

What do I do if I test positive for Covid-19, or have been in contact with someone who has?

If you test positive or are informed that someone you’ve had close contact with has tested positive, you need to call Austria’s health hotline for information. That’s 1450 from an Austrian phone or if you are using a foreign phone, it’s 0043 1 1450 (note the extra 1). They will give you information about arranging a test and other steps you need to follow. It should be possible to get English-language advice from this helpline — there is no separate number for tourists.

You should also stay at home and avoid all contact with other people. If you are on holiday in Austria, it’s a good idea to inform your accommodation provider if you test positive so that they can take steps to protect other guests from infection, and this is particularly important in any kind of shared accommodation. Note that even tourists are entitled to free Covid-19 tests if these are ordered by medical authorities.

You will need to quarantine if you test positive or are identified as a close contact of a positive case, and the length of quarantine depends on factors including your symptoms, PCR tests results in the case of close contacts, your vaccination status, and whether there is any suspicion you may have the Omicron variant of Covid-19. You should receive this advice from the 1450 helpline. Note that if you are in Covid-19 quarantine you are not permitted to undertake train or plane journeys. Healthcare authorities will inform you if you are allowed to travel privately, for example driving home, during quarantine.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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