Austria announces slight relaxation to mask-wearing at school

The requirement for students to wear FFP2 masks while seated at school will be removed for primary school children from February 14th, the Minister for Education said on Wednesday.

Austria announces slight relaxation to mask-wearing at school
Schools have been in a so-called 'safety phase' for several weeks, meaning increased mask-wearing and testing. Photo: James Arthur Gekiere/Belga/AFP

Starting from February 7th, in those schools that are not on holiday, Minister Martin Polaschek said that masks no longer need to be worn during physical education lessons — though he said outdoor, distanced lessons were recommended if possible.

This first change applies to all ages, but the February 14th change removing the requirement to wear masks when seated only applies to the Volksschule, for children in grades 1 to 4.

The so-called ‘safety phase’ which includes the need to take tests at school three times per week will remain in place until the end of February.

From next week, at least two of these tests must be the more reliable PCR tests. This is already the case in Vienna and Austria tried to extend the rule to all regions in January, but initially this was not possible due to problems with lab capacity.

Austria is expecting to reach the peak of the Omicron wave this weekend, and is also relaxing measures in other parts of society, starting by extending the current 10pm curfew on restaurants and bars to midnight from February 5th.

Polaschek said that at the end of February, the government will consult again with experts on how to continue gradually removing mask requirements in schools.

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LATEST: What are Austria’s current Covid-19 rules?

Travellers entering the country no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, but masks are still mandatory in some places.

LATEST: What are Austria's current Covid-19 rules?

From Monday, May 16th, travellers coming into Austria no longer need to present proof that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have tested negative for the disease, or recently recovered from it.

Previously, the so-called 3G rules were in place for all people coming into Austria, with very few exceptions.

The government over the weekend dropped the requirements just ahead of warmer months, stating that the epidemiological situation no longer justified them.

On Sunday, 15th, Austria reported 3,777 new coronavirus cases after just under 110,000 PCR tests were taken. In total, 807 people are currently hospitalised with the disease, and 62 are in intensive care units. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,303 people have died from Covid-19 in Austria.

Despite dropping the entry requirements, the federal government reiterated that the rules could change, mainly if a variant of concern is found.

READ ALSO: Austria extends Covid regulations as experts warn of autumn resurgence

Domestically, Austria still has a few coronavirus restrictions in place, including an FFP2 mask mandate in some areas.

These are the latest rules you need to be aware of:

FFP2 mask mandate

The obligation to wear an FFP2 mask only applies in enclosed spaces of hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport (including stops and stations), taxis, customer areas of vital trade, such as supermarkets, and administrative buildings.

The mask mandate is no longer in place for enclosed places like gyms, restaurants and bars, and cultural establishments, but masks are still recommended.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Isolation after a positive test

After the fifth day of isolation and at least 48 hours without symptoms, you can end quarantine for mild or asymptomatic cases.

However, there is a “traffic restriction” for another five days, with a mask mandate and no entry permitted in gastronomy venues, health and care homes, and events during this period.

READ ALSO: Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

In order to obtain an early lifting of the restrictions, a free PCR test can be carried out. If the test is negative or with a CT value (short for Cycle Threshold and is the gold standard for detecting Covid-19) above 30, the isolation can be lifted.

If the value is below 30, then you must remain in isolation.

Vienna doesn’t follow the ‘traffic restriction’, so the only way to end the 10-day isolation is with a PCR test (negative or CT value below 30) after two symptom-free days.

You can find more information on federal restrictions on the government website here.

The 3G rule

A 3G rule (proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, recently recovered from the disease or has a negative test) is generally only needed for visitors, employees and service providers in hospitals and care homes.

READ ALSO: Ba.4 and Ba.5 Covid variants detected in Austria: What you need to know

In Vienna, on the other hand, the rules are stricter.

Visitors and workers need to have the 3G proof plus a negative PCR test. However, the city has dropped 2G rules for gastronomy and nightclubs – the only places where it was still required to show proof of vaccination or recovery.