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UPDATED: The UK and three European countries on Austria’s virus variant list

The UK, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands have been added to Austria's virus variant list, sending many families' Christmas plans into disarray, Austria announced after a Covid summit on Wednesday.

Passengers wait at an airport.
Will Austria impose quarantine on travellers from the UK and three EU countries? Photo: Adrian DENNIS / AFP

The change will come into effect on December 25th.

For countries on the virus variant list, called Virusvariantgebiete in German, entry to Austria is subject to certain rules, in addition to the 2G rules (vaccination or recovery) that apply to everyone.

To enter Austria from the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark or Norway, travellers must show proof of a booster vaccination and a negative PCR test. Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the rules and teenagers eligible for the Holiday Ninja Pass will be able to enter with a negative PCR test (valid for 48 hours).

People arriving from these countries that have not received the booster shot will have to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in Austria. This means even those that are fully vaccinated (two shots) will still have to quarantine.

For those travelling from non-virus variant countries, entry to Austria is possible with proof of full vaccination (two doses) or recovery from Covid-19, and a negative PCR test or proof of a booster shot. 

If someone does not have a negative PCR test or has not received the booster shot, then they need to show proof of vaccination (two shots) or recovery, register for pre-travel clearance and self-isolate on arrival until a negative PCR test is provided. A test can be taken at the airport or any other test site.

Pregnant women and those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons must show a medical certificate and a negative PCR test. 

Another consideration for travellers is that once a destination is listed as a virus variant country it can mean travel options are reduced and many flights cancelled, so that even for people still allowed to enter Austria, it can become more difficult in practice.

There were already ten countries on Austria’s virus variant risk list due to the spread of the Omicron variant, all located in southern Africa. They are: Angola, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa

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

The Tiroler Tageszeitung was the first to report that the government was considering adding the countries to the variant list, with the Health Ministry confirming that the issue was on the agenda at the summit.

Other measures were also announced at the press conference, including a 10pm curfew for the gastronomy sector from December 27th, including on New Year’s Eve. You can read more on those measures by clicking here.

Useful links

FAQ on rules for entering Austria – Health Ministry 

Austria’s pre-travel clearance form in English

Austrian tourist board

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TRAIN TRAVEL

EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

Austrian trains have been overly crowded recently, with some people who had valid tickets having to be removed for "safety reasons". Here's how to make sure you get to your destination.

EXPLAINED: How to not be 'bumped' from an overcrowded Austrian train

Train travel is a safe and relatively comfortable way to get around Austria, but there is still much to do to make these journeys better for travellers, especially for commuters.

In Austria, a combination of high fuel prices, the adoption of the subsidised Klimaticket, and Vienna’s new short-term parking system, combined with other factors including a green surge and nice weather, has led to an increase in the search for train travel.

The operator ÖBB expects an even higher surge in the next few days, as warm weather meets holidays in Austria. This has led to several journeys being overcrowded, with people travelling standing up or being removed from trains when they reach capacity and the number of people compromises safety.

READ ALSO: Half-price Europe train tickets on offer in Interrail flash sale

“Safety is the top priority. If the train is too full to be guided safely, passengers must be asked to get off. If they don’t do it voluntarily, we have no choice but to get the police. This happens very rarely,” Bernhard Rieder from ÖBB told broadcaster ORF during an Ö1 interview.

Why are trains overcrowded?

There are several reasons for the surge in train travel, but they boil down to two things: rising costs for other means of transportation and environmental worries.

With galloping inflation, Austrians have seen prices of fuel climbing, and as the war in Ukraine continues, there is no likelihood of lower petrol prices any time soon.

At the same time, since March, Vienna (the destination for many domestic tourists and commuters) has instituted a new short-term parking system, basically removing free parking in the streets of the capital.

Driving has become more expensive when everything else seems to be costly, and many Austrians turn to train travel. Particularly for those who are holders of the Klimaticket, a yearly subsidised card that allows for unlimited travel for just over €1,000 – early buyers could get a hold of the ticket for under €900.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

The ticket allows travellers to “hop on and hop off” as they wish, making occupancy more unpredictable. However, it is possible to reserve seats even if you have them, and there are low-budget bundles for commuters.

The Klimaticket was created in an effort with the Environmental Ministry, looking to increase the use of greener transport alternatives in Austria.

The environmental concern is also one of the reasons why train travel is on the rise globally – travelling by train is also more convenient in many cases, with comfortable seats, free wifi, a dining area and the fact that you can start and end your journey in central stations instead of far-away airports.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Why won’t ÖBB only sell as many tickets as there are train seats?

A reasonable question, but that is not possible with the way train journeys operate in Austria – and in most countries.

Some tickets are “open” and flexible, meaning that people can board any train from a specific time. These are particularly useful for commuters who might be late leaving work, for example.

Additionally, holders of the Klimaticket and other regional yearly offers don’t need to buy tickets. They only need to show their Klimaticket card with an ID once checked.

READ ALSO: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

What is ÖBB doing to avoid overcrowding?

After the several incidents of overcrowding when people even had to leave their trains despite having valid tickets, ÖBB announced it would bring additional trains for the peak season around the holidays (May 26th, June 5th and 6th and June 16th), increasing the number of seats by “thousands”, according to a press statement.

What can I do to guarantee my journey?

Despite the increase in offer, the operator still warns that “on certain trains, demand can still exceed capacity”.

The best way to try and guarantee your journey, according to ÖBB, is by reserving a seat.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

“A seat reservation is the best way to use the most popular train connections. Starting at €3, you can reserve a seat in ÖBB trains in Austria”.

Reservations are available online at tickets.oebb.at the ÖBB app, at the ÖBB ticket counter, and at the ÖBB customer service at 05-1717.

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