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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.

The Graben in Vienna
A couple walk past closed boutique stores on the Graben, a street in the city centre of Vienna that is normally packed with crowds of people on November 22, 2021. - Austria has entered a nationwide lockdown in an effort to contain spiraling coronavirus infections. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Compulsory vaccination to be voted on by the Federal Council

The plan to make vaccination compulsory in Austria is expected to be voted through in Austria’s Federal Council or Bundesrat (the upper house of the Austrian Parliament) later today.

The ÖVP, Greens, NEOS parties and most of the SPÖ party are all expected to vote through the proposal from the National Council. All that will remain is the signature of the Federal President and an announcement before vaccination against Covid-19  becomes mandatory in Austria from the age of 18.

There will be exceptions from the vaccine mandate for pregnant women and those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, as well as for those who have recovered (for 180 days). The penalty ranges from 600 to 3,600 euros, but checks will only begin from mid-March.

Mayor to decide later on Covid-19 rules for Vienna

The Mayor of Vienna will meet with advisors this morning to decide on whether to impose stricter rules for Vienna than the rest of Austria. Michael Ludwig, who is in the opposition SPÖ party, previously criticised the federal government’s plans to relax restrictions across Austria.

He said the number of infections with Covid-19 were still too high. From Saturday (February 5), the curfew in Austria is set to be extended until midnight and 2G restrictions in retail will also be gradually lifted.

Record number of Tuesday Covid-19 infections in Austria

Austria reported a new record of almost 40,000 new Covid-19 infections in 24 hours for Tuesday, with the Health and Interior Ministries reporting a total of 39,410 cases.

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. Last Wednesday 34,011 cases were reported. Austria is expecting to reach the peak of the Omicron wave this weekend

More short term parking zones for Lower Austria

Communities in Lower Austria are creating more short term parking zones, to mitigate the impact of changes to short term parking which will come into effect in Vienna from 1st March. From that date Vienna will introduce a parking permit system across the whole of the city.

This will mean only people with their main residence (Hauptwohnsitz in German) in Vienna can reserve a parking space. ​​The communities of Perchtoldsdorf in Mödling and Schwechat will also introduce more short term parking zones to stop streets getting clogged up with parked cars.

Both the states of Lower Austria and Vienna plan to introduce more park and ride schemes in future. 

Covid-19 testing made easier for kindergarten age children

Children at Vienna’s kindergartens will be given special ‘spit funnels’ to make it easier for them to carry out ‘gargle tests’ to ensure they do not have Covid-19.

One problem is that small children find it difficult to spit the solution used for the ‘gargle tests’ into a test-tube accurately.

Around 100,000 re-usable funnels will now be handed out in kindergartens and special schools in the hope it will become easier for parents and kindergarten staff to test children. Funnels will also be available for children to take home.

The City of Vienna says the funnels can be used by toddlers from one year of age. There is more information here (German language link).

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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.