UPDATE: Austria to remove 2G rule for more parts of society this weekend

Austria's government is taking steps to re-open society by relaxing some of its strict Covid-19 restrictions. Further new rule changes, which will come into effect from Saturday February 12th, were announced on Tuesday.

FFP2 mask
Fewer venues will require proof of 2G from Saturday, but widespread FFP2 mask mandates will remain. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

The requirement to show proof of 2G (full vaccination or recent recovery from Covid-19) in order to enter non-essential shops and cultural venues like museums, galleries and libraries will be scrapped from February 12th, as the government had already announced. It will be possible to enter these venues without showing any form of vaccine or health pass, though FFP2 masks must still be worn.

On Tuesday the government said that from the same date, February 12th, several more relaxations would come into effect.

The 2G rule will be replaced by the 3G rule for hairdressers, beauty and massage salons. These services are sometimes described as “body-hugging services” in Austria, a translation from the German körpernahe which roughly means “requiring close physical contact”. The rule change means that as of Saturday, it will be possible to visit these venues with a recent negative Covid-19 test as an alternative to proof of vaccination or recovery.

This change primarily affects unvaccinated people because up until now, people without 2G have been barred from the majority of public spaces even though the lockdown for unvaccinated people ended last week.

In hairdressers, salons and similar businesses, an FFP2 mask must still be worn even after February 12th alongside the 3G rule.

The other newly announced change relates to events, where the upper limit of permitted attendees will be removed from February 12th. Both the 2G rule and FFP2 mask requirement will still apply indoors and outdoors. Events for over 50 people without assigned seating must not have any food or drink served, to ensure the FFP2 masks can be worn.

Announcing the latest changes, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said that current data showed that “in contrast to previous corona waves, Omicron does not currently pose an acute threat to our healthcare system.”

However, he appealed to people currently on their February school break to wear FFP2 masks, “not only where it is mandatory anyway, but also whenever you are around a lot of people”.

READ MORE: How Austria’s Covid restrictions are changing in February

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EXPLAINED: How Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

The much-debated policy sparked controversy since before it was approved in February, meaning that May could be a definitive month in the country.

EXPLAINED: How Austria's compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

Austria’s Federal Government has a ticking time bomb on its hands: an ordinance that suspended its vaccine mandate law is set to expire by the end of May, which means that the controversial mandatory vaccination would be again in place as early as June 1st.

In order to keep that from happening, Austria’s Health Ministry needs to extend the current regulation or create a new one.

If it doesn’t, the Covid-19 mandatory vaccination law would automatically be back in June.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s plans to bring back the vaccine mandate?

Since, by June, the vaccine mandate stated that non-vaccinated would start getting fines, the resumption of the law would mean that, from next month, those who are not vaccinated could be fined in routine checks, such as traffic checks.

The ins and outs of the vaccine mandate

The law was first introduced in February, even though the technical requirements for it to be enacted were not in place. The first stage of it was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining about vaccines and about the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if they were not vaccinated, was set to start in mid-March. Before a single person was fined, though, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) suspended the law with an ordinance.

The law was suspended for a variety of reasons, primarily due to the relatively high vaccination coverage the country had already received, along with the lower virulence of the Omicron variant. 

READ ALSO: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

To create a new regulation or extend the existing one stopping people from being fined, Rauch must await the report of the vaccination commission, which should be ready in May, according to the Ministry.

The coronavirus commission will assess whether the Vaccination Act is suitable and useful from a medical and legal point of view. A previous report said there were arguments for and against mandatory vaccination for those who were completely unvaccinated.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

Der Standard reports there is little political support for compulsory vaccination and says there are still technical problems regarding automated fines. However, according to the Ministry of Health, the infrastructure should be completed in June.