Austria rules out further tightening of Covid measures – yet

Following two meetings of the Committee of the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) on Monday, further restrictions in Austria have been ruled out, although tighter rules may be on the horizon.

A woman walks past a closed restaurant at the Naschmarkt market in Vienna, Austria, on November 17, 2020.  (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
A woman walks past a closed restaurant at the Naschmarkt market in Vienna, Austria, on November 17, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The Omicron variant and the general Covid-19 situation in Austria were the main topics of conversation at the GECKO meeting on Monday.

In the morning, laboratory operators, the army and representatives from the federal states attended a virtual “test summit” to discuss how tests can be carried out more effectively nationwide and how testing infrastructure can be expanded.

FOR MEMBERS: UPDATED: What are the rules for entering Austria right now?

GECKO leaders Major General Rudolf Striedinger and Chief Medical Officer Katharina Reich were in attendance, as well as Thomas Starlinger from the Covid-19 Future Operations Clearing Board. 

According to ORF, Michael Havel, CEO of Lifebrain laboratory in Vienna (who was also in attendance), said Lifebrain’s testing capabilities could be expanded at short notice to evaluate test results from other Austrian states if needed.

Havel recommended building two to three new large testing centres and that Lifebrain is ready to invest €60 to €70 million into such facilities. However, any decisions on expanding testing infrastructure have to be made by the federal government.

READ MORE: What will happen with the pandemic in Austria in 2022?

On Monday evening, GECKO attendees then discussed whether the current restrictions are enough to cope with the increasing number of Omicron cases and the expected wave in January.

There is currently no new information for the public and any recommendations made by the experts on Monday will be considered by the federal government. If restrictions are to be tightened again in the new year, the government will make an announcement in the coming days.

New Covid-19 rules now in force in Austria

On Monday December 27th, a new curfew came into effect which means the gastronomy sector in Austria (including in hotels) must now close at 10pm. This includes New Year’s Eve.

Private gatherings of up to 25 people with 2G proof will be permitted, but if they are indoor and without assigned seating, FFP2 masks are compulsory, and the authorities requested that people reduce their contacts as much as possible.

If assigned seating is available, the maximum number of people rises to 500 if everyone has proof of 2G (full vaccination or recovery); 1,000 for 2G+ (full vaccination or recovery and a negative PCR test), and 2,000 if people have 2G+ and a booster dose. FFP2 masks will also be required.

READ MORE: How Austria’s Covid rules change today

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Reader question: Do I need to wear a mask on flights to/from Austria?

The EU has eased recommendations for face masks on flights and in airports, but member states are free to put their own rules in place.

Reader question: Do I need to wear a mask on flights to/from Austria?

Since Monday, May 16th, it is no longer mandatory to wear a medical-grade face mask on flights and at airports within the EU.

But Austria will continue with the rule for now, meaning that masks are required on flights to Austria.

The implementation of the EU recommendation is based on the national rules in individual countries. 

For flights, where a destination country has a mask rule in place, then masks must be worn. 

An Austrian Airlines spokesperson told the Kronen Zeitung: “The easing of the mask requirement is an EU recommendation that must be reflected in a national regulation in order to also apply in Austria.” 

The aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC states that if masks are mandatory on public transport at the point of departure or at the destination, then the regulation should also continue on board the aircraft.

According to current Austrian Covid-19 regulations, wearing an FFP2 mask is still required in hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport (including stops and stations), taxis, customer areas of vital trade, such as supermarkets, and administrative buildings.

READ MORE: LATEST: What are Austria’s current Covid-19 rules

In addition to Austria, masks are still compulsory in some public areas in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy – all key tourism destinations for travellers from Austria.