Proof of either a negative Covid test, a valid vaccine certificate, or recent recovery from the virus (together called 3G) must be shown in a few situations, most crucially in the workplace. In many other areas of society, a 2G rule (vaccination or recovery only) is in place.
According to an amendment to Austria’s Covid law, self-administered antigen tests will be recognised as 3G proof again, if the amendment is passed as expected on Thursday. It will come into effect from Friday.
These tests are often called Wohnzimmertests or ‘living room tests’ in Austria.
In order for them to be accepted as 3G, the test must have been recorded in an official system and verified. The test results will be valid for 24 hours from the time of testing.
The reason for the change is the huge surge in new cases caused by the Omicron wave. Austria reached a new daily record of 26,767 confirmed cases in 24 hours on Wednesday, a number the chancellor called “frighteningly high”.
Although Austria carries out more daily PCR tests than most other countries, most regions are still struggling to offer enough, and to get the results back to residents quickly enough for them to be valid.
The exception is Vienna, which carries out more PCR tests than Austria’s other eight regions put together, and will not accept at-home antigen tests for 3G, as a spokesperson for City Councilor for Health Peter Hacker confirmed on Wednesday. Vienna does not accept any antigen tests for 3G, including those carried out by medical professionals, and this has been the case since September 2021.
Authorities in Lower Austria have also said that at-home tests will not be accepted in the region.
This is possible because the national ordinance only sets out a legal minimum framework. Regions can introduce their own stricter rules, but they cannot introduce their own more lenient rules.
PCR tests are more sensitive and accurate than the antigen tests, multiple studies have shown. For example, Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute examined the sensitivity of 245 antigen tests in testing for the Omicron variant and found wide variations in the sensitivity, with none as effective as PCR tests.
Aside from this change to testing, no other major changes are expected when the extension of the Covid ordinance happens on Thursday. The lockdown for people without proof of 2G and the 10pm curfew for restaurants and bars are both set to remain in place.