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

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

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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