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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

Zell am See
In 2021 Austria welcomed the lowest number of tourists for 50 years. Photo: Daniel Frank/Unsplash

An end to the lockdown for the unvaccinated

In case you missed it, yesterday’s big news was the government announcement that the lockdown for people without proof of 2G — which has been in place since mid-November — will end on Monday.

That doesn’t mean a lot of change in practice: people without 2G will be able to leave their homes for any reason, but will still be unable to enter places with 2G entry requirements, currently most public places.

Changes to rules over booster doses

Starting from February 1st, it will be possible to get a booster dose from three months (90 days) after the second dose, the government also announced yesterday.

However, the National Vaccination Committee still recommends getting the booster between four and six months after the second.

Some people who received their booster dose before the four-month limit were unable to receive official proof of this, with their vaccine certificates showing they had received only ‘2/2’ doses instead of ‘3/3’. After the change, these people should be able to get their valid vaccine proof.

Over 30,000 new infections

For the first time, Austria reported more than 30,000 new Covid-19 infections in 24 hours, with the Health and Interior Ministries reporting a total of 34,011 cases on Wednesday.

That’s up from 27,677 last Wednesday. Wednesdays are typically the weekday with the most recorded cases, partly because the weekly PCR tests taken in schools are often included in these results.

Second home owners lose right to vote in Lower Austria

Lower Austria’s regional government has decided to limit voting rights in provincial and municipal elections to people whose main residence (Hauptwohnsitz in German) is in the region.

One of the reasons for the change is that in March Vienna will introduce a parking permit system across the whole of the city, under which only people with their Hauptwohnsitz in Vienna can reserve a parking space. Because the two regions are neighbours and a lot of people commute between the two or have residences in both, Lower Austria anticipates people changing their registered residence as a result of the new parking rule.

How Austria’s tourism sector was hit by the pandemic

A total of 80 million overnight stays took place in Austria in 2021 — for context, you’d have to go back to 1970 to find an equally low level.

The data comes from Statistics Austria and shows a decline of just under 20 percent compared to the first year of the pandemic, 2020. The numbers fell among both foreign and domestic guests but, due to a combination of travel restrictions and Austria’s pandemic restrictions, the decline was greater among tourists from overseas. Hotels were entirely closed under Austria’s lockdowns between January and May and again in November.

Burgenland and Vienna recorded more overnight stays in 2021 than in 2020, but in the rest of the regions there were significant declines, with Salzburg and Tyrol the most affected, each seeing declines of around 30 percent year on year.

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Austria needs to 'wake up' in terms of neutrality, kindergarten headscarf ban overturned and more news on Friday.

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

Former foreign minister says Austria needs to examine its security policy 

The former Austrian ÖVP Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik has given a speech calling for Austria to look again at its security policy in the light of the debate over neutrality. “Austrian security policy has been dormant for almost a quarter of a century. We cannot afford to sleep for decades,” said Plassnik, according to broadcaster ORF, speaking at the Medienzentrum Ausseerland conference in Grundlsee organized by the Association of Foreign Press.

She said it was time for an update of the security policy, which is now ten years old, and to carry out a “careful, impartial and EU-compliant current risk analysis”. Plassnik suggested an “options report” should be carried out in 2022. This has been attempted before in 1998, but failed because Austria’s SPÖ party did not want to examine NATO membership at the time.

Following the decision of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, 23 EU countries now belong to the North Atlantic Defense Alliance. Only Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and Austria remain outside.

Plassnik called for debate, saying Austria was a “stowaway” in terms of security policy, in which its neighbors, the NATO members, paid the insurance policy. She added while Austrians may “carry neutrality in their hearts” it was important not to lose their heads. 

READ MORE: ‘No country is an island’: Is it time for Austria to abandon its neutrality policy?

No more headscarf ban in Austrian kindergartens

The headscarf ban in Austria’s kindergartens has been repealed. The measure will no longer be included in the new 15a agreement between the federal and state governments, broadcaster ORF reports. A law banning headscarves in Austrian schools, introduced under the previous ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government was overturned previously because it was found not to be compatible with Austria’s federal constitution. However, state laws mean in kindergartens, the ban is still in force, except in Salzburg and Tyrol. The constitutional court said in a statement that these laws were probably also unconstitutional

 A new 15a agreement is currently being negotiated between the federal and state governments, as the current regulation expires at the end of August. The details will be revealed later today (Friday). It is expected the government will announce payments of a  “kindergarten billion” distributed over the next five years. This will mean Austria’s federal states will receive money to expand their offer in the compulsory kindergarten year before school, and to give better language support. The agreement is already drawing criticism for not including enough quality criteria around group sizes or care. 

Virologist calms fears over monkey pox in Austria

The virologist Norbert Nowotny has sought to reassure people in Austria over the recent outbreaks of monkey pox which have been seen around the globe, in an interview with Puls 24

So far there have been no cases in Austria, but the virologist said it was possible there would be one or two imported cases. For people with a healthy immune system monkey pox was “no big deal” he said. However in immunocompromised people, the infection can be more severe.

Gewessler calls for Austria to adapt “circular economy”

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Green Minister for the Environment is working on a strategy for a circular economy, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing and recycling existing materials and products rather than buying new ones. She said repairs were an important factor to allow Austria to become climate-neutral by 2050 and operate sustainably. In order for long-lasting devices and repairs to be better established on the market, many other coordinated measures are needed in addition to the new repair bonus – as is the case for the entire strategy itself, which could be completed by June.

READ MORE: Repair bonus: How to get money back when electrical items break in Austria

Law changes to give more support to displaced people from Ukraine

Austria’s laws will change to give more support for people displaced from Ukraine, despite the ‘no’ votes of the FPÖ. Ukrainians have now been included in an Integration Act, giving them access to German and orientation courses. It should become easier for Ukrainians to enter the labour market, and have their educational qualifications and professional qualifications recognised, broadcaster ORF reports.

European parliament votes in favour of sanctions against Austria’s former foreign minister

The European Parliament voted by a large majority in favor of sanctions against politicians and Europeans who draw large amounts of money from Russia on Thursday, naming Austria’s  former FPÖ Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl along with Germany’s ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. 

The text also mentioned Austria’s former Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP), noting he had “recently resigned” from his office in a Russian company in contrast to politicians such as Kneissl, broadcaster ORF reports.

Payments for Russian gas can be made in roubles, according to ‘EU circles’ 

According to information from EU Commission circles, gas importers such as Austria are also allowed to open a rouble account with the Russian Gazprombank as long as they pay their bills in the agreed currencies, euros or dollars, to another account. Commission officials clarified on Thursday that this would be in line with EU sanctions. The exchange of western currencies into roubles would then have to be carried out via the second account on the Russian side.

The commission recommended states should not set up rouble accounts if possible, but this recommendation has no legal consequences, broadcaster ORF reports. 

At the end of April, Austria’s ÖVP Chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said that it was “fake news from Russian propaganda” that states such as Austria were willing to pay for the gas in roubles and insisted Austria’s energy company, OMV, would continue to pay for gas deliveries from Russia in euros. The Polish politician and former EU Council President Donald Tusk then accused Austria and Germany of having entered the “rouble zone”.

 The Russian energy company Gazprom has halted its gas  supplies to Poland and Bulgaria since they refused to pay for their gas in roubles.

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