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COVID-19 RULES

Will Austria’s vaccine mandate go ahead?

Following the announcement of Austria’s “spring awakening” and relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, the big question is whether the planned vaccine mandate will go ahead.

Will Austria’s vaccine mandate go ahead?
Will Austria's planned Covid-19 vaccination law still go ahead? Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

On Wednesday, the Federal Government announced that most Covid-19 restrictions will be relaxed next month in what has been dubbed Austria’s “spring awakening” by Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

From March 5th, nationwide 2G and 3G requirements (proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test) to enter venues will be removed, as well as the removal of the current midnight curfew for restaurants and a reopening for night clubs.

Proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test will then only be required in what the government called “particularly vulnerable settings” such as hospitals and nursing homes. 

READ MORE: Covid-19: Austria to remove most restrictions from March 5th

For travellers entering Austria, 3G rules will still apply but the 2G+ rule (two doses of the vaccination and either a booster or negative PCR test) will also be dropped from March 5th.

As of the same date, the current requirement to wear an FFP2 mask in all public indoor spaces will be relaxed, with mask-wearing only mandatory on public transport, in essential retail stores (which mainly refers to supermarkets and pharmacies), and in hospitals and nursing homes. 

The only outlier is Vienna where the 2G rule will remain past March 5th and it is expected that if nightclubs reopen in the capital they will be subject to 2G+ rules.

OPINION: Austria’s vaccine mandate is politically high-risk with limited benefits

But where does this leave the mandatory vaccination law (Impfpflicht) that is planned to be implemented from next month?

Will Austria scrap the Covid vaccine mandate?

After the announcement on Wednesday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein, from The Greens, spoke to ZIB2 about the relaxation of restrictions and said he “assumed” the vaccination mandate would still be implemented from March 15th.

Additionally, Mückstein said it is expected that the planned penalties for unvaccinated people will also be enforced from the same date. 

READ ALSO: Could free Covid-19 tests be coming to an end in Austria?

However, he said it is likely that Austria’s testing strategy will change in the spring with the possibility of the end to free Covid-19 tests (apart from for symptomatic people and official tests), which has so far cost around €2.6 billion.

Mückstein said: ​​”I don’t think that we will differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in terms of test costs.”

EXPLAINED: How Austria’s vaccine mandate will work

The Federal Government has now asked the Committee of the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) to devise a new testing strategy for Austria, which is expected to be implemented in April.

In Austrian media, the announcement about the removal of 2G and 3G rules from early March for most settings has led to questions surrounding the future of the planned vaccination law.

The Kronen Zeitung reports that the Federal Government will make a final decision on the implementation of the law before mid March.

Earlier in February, politicians and virologists raised questions over the compulsory vaccination scheme, putting the controversial plan in jeopardy. 

The governors of the Austrian states of Carinthia, Upper Austria and Salzburg are questioning whether the compulsory vaccination law should come into force in March, or whether other solutions should be pursued. 

The governors expressed doubts due to the relatively stable numbers in the hospitals, which are a combined consequence of the current vaccination coverage as well as the lower potency of the Omicron variant. 

Carinthia’s governor Peter Kaiser of the opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ) party said there should be a “constant review” to see if the law is still proportional.

Salzburg’s governor Wilfried Haslauer, who is in the governing Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) party also called for an evaluation before the law comes into force on March 15th. 

Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP), governor of Upper Austria, said he supported the idea of a vaccine mandate but questioned whether Austria should still go ahead with it. 

Stelzer said he felt such a scheme was “useful, but whether it is really necessary… remains open and should be discussed.”

Member comments

  1. Relaxing all/most measures and yet mandating an Impfpflicht is a little incongruous. It appears that (at least part of the) the Austrian government is a little removed from science and are on some kind of ego trip. Of course, I could be wrong…

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COVID-19 ALERT

Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

As Covid-19 infection numbers continue rising, Austria's government doesn't rule out a comeback of the mask requirement.

Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

Austria has seen rising Covid-19 numbers for weeks, and the country’s traffic light commission has increased the risk rating of all federal states, with none currently designated as “low risk”.

Virologists and health experts have given many explanations for rising numbers and forecast that new infections, currently at more than 12,000 a day, could reach more than 30,000 in the next few weeks.

Austria’s Covid commission said that the omicron subvariant BA.4/BA.5 is a decisive factor in the increase, as it is considered more infectious. “Additionally, an increased proportion of travel-associated cases has been observed in recent weeks”, the commission stated.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

Dorothee von Laer, a Med-Uni Innsbruck virologist, told Der Standard that the new subvariant could be responsible for a new wave as “the protection we have from BA1 infections, and from vaccinations, is not so good against BA.4/BA.5”.

“So people who were infected early on, or who are only vaccinated, have of course some protection against hospitalisation, but almost no or very little protection against infection”, she said.

Von Laer mentioned other factors that likely contributed to the increasing numbers, including the fact that people have stopped wearing masks after the requirement was dropped in most of Austria.

Are masks about to make a comeback?

When Austria’s federal government announced they would drop the Covid mask mandate, they phrased it as a “pause” to the FFP2 masks, which were still mandatory in essential trade and public transport.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said that the mask requirement will be “paused”, as the pandemic is not over yet, and that people should be prepared for a resumption of the rules after summer, as The Local reported.

BACKGROUND: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

Many experts believe FFP2 masks won’t be optional for long if numbers continue rising. Von Laer said, “we will probably have to resort to the mask again, even if the hospitals are not overcrowded because we want to protect the vulnerable people”.

The health minister had already stated that it is time people “take personal responsibility” so that they choose to wear masks in crowds or when close to vulnerable people.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

However, he recently added that if the situation “goes in the direction of overloading the health system, then, of course, I am also obliged to react”.

The minister also said he reassesses the situation every week, observing developments in other countries.

‘We will have to learn’

For Rauch, people will need to learn to live with the masks, as future waves can also be expected in the coming years. He added that we would have to learn to take personal responsibility, make self-assessments, and have solidarity.

READ ALSO: Austria sees scores of flight cancellations after airline staff contact Covid

He also assumes more flexible measures in the future. For example, public transport signs will ask for the mask mandate during morning traffic hours, but not on empty evening trains.

His goal, the minister stated, was to find a middle ground between demanding as few restrictions as possible and exercising caution.

Covid-19 stats

Austria on Wednesday reported 12,509 new coronavirus infections after 169,948 PCR tests, according to the Health Ministry.

There were 856 people in hospitals with Covid-19 and 47 in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,779 people have died from the disease.

The country has just over 61 percent of its population with a valid vaccination pass.

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