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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Tuesday

Every weekday, The Local brings you an English-language summary of the news you need to know in Austria.

Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen
Will incumbent president Alexander Van der Bellen run for another term in this year's election? Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

2G checks start in retail

From today, non-essential retail businesses are required to check for proof of 2G from customers at checkouts or beforehand, to further enforce Austria’s lockdown for unvaccinated people.

Salzburg introduced this rule last Monday, and elsewhere some retail businesses have already implemented 2G checks on their own initiative, for example including some stores on Vienna’s main shopping street Mariahilferstraße.

Mask mandate in outdoor spaces

The rule making FFP2 masks compulsory in outdoor spaces where a two-metre distance cannot be maintained also comes into effect today.

The distance only applies to people from different households, and it does not apply in situations where you only pass someone very briefly. In this respect the final text of the law is slightly different from how it was first presented by the government, when Chancellor Nehammer said, “whenever I encounter people, I have to wear a mask”.

Lockdown for the unvaccinated extended until January 20th

Lockdowns are such a stringent measure that the Austrian government can only implement them for ten days at a time. However, we should expect the lockdown for people without valid proof of 2G to continue for some time, with government ministers reiterating recently that even the introduction of the vaccine mandate won’t necessarily mean an end to the lockdown.

Almost 900,000 vaccine certificates will lose their validity from February 1st

Austria is reducing the validity of vaccine certificates to six months after the second dose as a way to encourage people to get the third dose, which has been shown to give a significantly higher protective effect against the Omicron variant.

This means that almost 900,000 vaccine passes will lose their validity from February 1st, the day the vaccine mandate is set to come into effect.

What to expect next with Covid in Austria?

In connection with the introduction of new rules today, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner told a press conference that the government and police would act “strictly” towards “unteachable people who do not maintain the necessary measures”. He said that plainclothes police officers would be deployed to ensure the new rules are followed in retail, along with additional police patrols.

Vienna Health Councillor Peter Hacker told Austrian TV he’s expecting to see a doubling of daily cases in Vienna in one or two days.

Despite comments from Austria’s digital health agency ELGA that putting in place the technical infrastructure needing for a vaccine mandate won’t be possible until April, Chancellor Karl Nehammer has said the February 1st date for its introduction is fixed. The review period of the law ended yesterday, and Nehammer said now only “fine-tuning” is required.

Vienna neurologist Michael Stingl, who has become a specialist in Long Covid, has called for politicians to do more to educate people on the long-term effects sometimes caused by Covid-19, even in patients who are young, have no pre-existing conditions, and have a mild or asymptomatic case of the virus. Speaking to APA, he said an “information campaign” was needed.

Who will be Austria’s next president?

Overshadowed by Covid and instability in the government, Austria’s presidential election will take place in autumn this year.

Incumbent Alexander Van der Bellen would be eligible to run for another term, but has not yet announced if he plans to do so. Nor have any other parties announced their candidates yet, and if Van der Bellen, a Green Party member who performs well in public opinion polls, puts himself forward again, it is likely that some of the largest parties will support him rather than put forward rival candidates.

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Company vaccinations start, water shortages, museums try to reduce power consumption and more news from Austria on Wednesday.

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Company vaccinations start again in Vienna

The City of Vienna has written to around 144,000 companies in the city, calling for them to get their employees vaccinated against Covid-19. The letter comes from the Chamber of Commerce, the Medical Association and the Federation of Industry (IV). In companies with more than 50 people willing to be vaccinated, the doses can be administered by the company doctor, broadcaster ORF reports. 

READ MORE: Austria recommends fourth Covid vaccination for over 60s and high-risk patients

Water shortages in Austria

The hot and dry spring and summer means communities in Vorarlberg and Upper Austria are running out of water, broadcaster ORF reports. In Langen near Bregenz, the drinking water tanks are empty and the municipality is therefore appealing to the population to only use water for personal hygiene and as drinking water for people and animals. 

In Traunkirchen in Upper Austria, the population is also being called on to water their gardens with rainwater to save water due to shortages.

Classical concerts are safe with a two metre “baby elephant” distance

Keeping a two metre distance – the length of a baby elephant – should also be enough to attend concerts with wind instruments while avoiding being infected with the corona virus, a US research team working with a symphony orchestra has found. Scientists discovered that the amount of aerosols emitted by wind instruments was similar to those emitted by people speaking, broadcaster ORF reports. 

Austria’s museums try to save energy with lower temperatures and LED lighting

Vienna’s Kunsthaus will close for six months next summer in order to upgrade the air conditioning in order to make the building more climate-neutral. Many of Vienna’s museums have already switched to LED lighting to save energy. Now the temperature in the reading rooms of Vienna’s National Library is also to be lowered, from around 24 degrees in winter to 22 or 21 degrees. The MQ is planting mulberry trees and plans to install a photovoltaic system, broadcaster ORF reports. 

‘Lighthouse’ plan following power outages in Innsbruck

Following a huge power outage last week, which affected around 140,000 households in the Innsbruck area, the Deputy Mayor Johannes Anzengruber (ÖVP), has laid out a plan for future blackouts. The ten fire stations and the main fire station of the city of Innsbruck are to become “lighthouses” in acute emergencies, where people can go for information in the case of power cuts. In the blackout last week, traffic lights failed, trams stopped running and people were stuck in elevators. Almost nothing worked in the state capital for almost 45 minutes, the Krone newspaper report.

Sunday and holiday shop openings questioned once more

After so many people went to Praterstern Billa in Vienna on Monday it had to close temporarily, the Krone newspaper is taking a look at why shops in Austria, and particularly the country’s capital Vienna, remain closed on Sundays and public holidays. 

It notes the rules are quite confusing. Some bakeries are allowed to sell groceries such as butter, juices and milk on Sundays, but not all. Gas stations and corner shops are sometimes open, as are supermarkets at major train stations and shops in some places, such as the Museum’s Quarter in Vienna, but they are only allowed to sell selected goods. Some shops open without being aware of the rules. According to the municipal administration and the market office (MA 59), there were 255 violations of the Sunday opening in the first half of 2022, with fines running into several thousands of euros for repeat offences. Some shops were open although it is illegal, others were not aware of the rules. 

Vienna is unusual in that it is the only federal state that has no tourism zones, which gives shops the option of staying open on holidays and Sundays. According to the Krone, Vienna’s mayor’s office says the social partners will not agree to Sunday openings. The paper notes Richard Lugner, a building tycoon, has long called for the general opening of shops on Sundays, but  adds nothing will change in the near future.

READ MORE: Why everything in Austria is closed on Sundays – and what to do instead

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