UPDATE: What are the new changes to Austria's Covid-19 rules?
On Thursday, Austria’s Covid Crisis Coordination Commission (Gecko) met with the Federal Government to discuss the pandemic situation. Another lockdown has been ruled out but current restrictions have been tightened.
As the pace of new infections continues to increase across Austria due to the new Omicron variant, the government has announced a raft of enhanced measures, but has also stated another national lockdown should be avoided.
What was announced on Thursday?
Following the meeting with Gecko, Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) kicked off a press conference by saying Austria has to adjust to the new pandemic situation and warned that Omicron could endanger the functioning of critical infrastructure in the country.
As a result, the following changes will apply to the existing nationwide Covid-19 restrictions:
The FFP2 mask requirement has been extended to outdoors when a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained such as in outdoors queues or pedestrian crossings.
The current quarantine period for those who test positive for Covid-19 or who are contact cases will be shortened to five days from January 8th, after which there will be an option to end self-isolation through taking a test. Previously the quarantine for positive Omicron cases was 14 days.
2G (proof of vaccination or recovery) certificates will be required in shops from next week. This is to further enforce the current lockdown on unvaccinated people.
All known contacts of positive cases will now be treated equally in terms of quarantine and they will no longer be classified as K1 (close contact) or K2. Recovered people with two vaccinations or those who have received the booster will no longer be considered as contacts.
The Green Pass will only be valid for six months from February 1st, or for nine months for those with the booster vaccination.
Working from home (where possible) should now be the rule for businesses and not the exception.
Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) described the changing approach to Omicron as a “paradigm shift”.
'Effects will be milder'
Mückstein said: "The numbers will be higher in the next few weeks than we ever wanted to imagine, but the effects will be milder."
He said that the risk of serious infection from Omicron is reduced by 70 percent with the booster (third dose), with hospitalisation reduced by 90 percent.
The number of new infections in Austria is expected to reach 20,000 per day in the coming weeks.
What was on the agenda at the meeting?
Omicron was the main topic of discussion at today's meeting - especially how to protect Austria's crucial infrastructure amid rising infection and K1 (close contact) numbers.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Social Affairs revealed the number of new infections had increased by 77 percent on the previous day (9,761 cases were reported in 24 hours). The majority of cases were reported in Vienna, followed by Salzburg and Tyrol.
The Covid forecast consortium didn't expect the number of new cases to reach 10,000 in one day until next week, and the group has since forecast a high of 17,000 new cases in the next 24 hours in a worst case scenario.
A previous record of 15,809 new infections was announced on November 19th, 2021.
Additionally, the consortium predicts the seven-day incidence in Tyrol could rise above 3,000 by next Wednesday January 12th.
On Wednesday Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) advised people to work from home if possible and to wear an FFP2 mask even when outside.
Mückstein said: "We have to slow down Omicron and keep the country going."
Prior to the meeting, experts had expressed concern that if the quarantine rules were not relaxed then Austria could face another national lockdown due to staff shortages and vital infrastructure being placed at risk.
It has already been reported by Kronen Zeitung that 50 staff members at Wien Energie will isolate themselves in their workplace for four weeks from January 7th. This is to ensure the city's power supply will remain running in the coming weeks.