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‘Safety phase’: Which measures will be in place when Austria’s schools reopen?

Children in Austria return to school on January 10th, and a set of measures aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19 await them.

Classroom
Special measures remain in place in Austria's schools until at least January 14th. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP

Education Minister Martin Polaschek has confirmed this week that schools will be open for in-person learning from the 10th, despite the rise in cases of the new Omicron variant.

He said that a range of factors would be taken into account to decide whether to adapt the measures, including not only case numbers but also the hospitalisation rate and regional differences.

For now, Covid-19 tests take place in schools three times a week. At least one of these must be a PCR test, which have a higher accuracy rate. 

Vienna, Lower Austria and Upper Austria have been carrying out two PCR tests per week since before Christmas, and the six other Austrian regions will join them starting from January 17th.

READ ALSO: Ten things you will notice as a parent with a child at school in Austria

Before school begins on Monday, Polaschek has appealed to parents to carry out at-home tests on their children to reduce the risk of children who have picked up the virus over the holidays bringing it to the classroom — but this is not being enforced. Students were given antigen tests for this purpose before the break, but Polaschek asked parents to use PCR tests if possible.

And all age groups need to continue wearing face masks in schools until at least January 14th, though only children aged 16 and over need to wear FFP2 masks. This applies in the whole school building including during lessons and in corridors, though the regulations do say “mask breaks” should be provided.

For parents who are still concerned about bringing their children to school, the legal requirement to attend school is still lifted until at least January 14th, which means parents can keep their children at home without needing a doctor’s note (you will still need to inform the school if you do this).

As well as infection prevention measures within schools, Austria is focusing on boosting the vaccination rate among school-aged children with new information campaigns. 

One of the other risks of the Omicron wave is that high numbers of staff absences may force some schools to close.

The ministry has said it has built up a reserve pool of 1,200 students who can step in to replace teachers who are off due to quarantine, and it’s possible that Austria will also follow other countries in reducing the length of quarantine to limit the impact on the workforce.

According to research by Statistics Austria, 55 percent of Austrian schoolchildren aged over 12 are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and earlier this winter Austria expanded the vaccine campaign to those aged five to 11.

Among teachers, the vaccination rate is 85 percent.

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