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COVID-19 TESTS

Austria to phase out mass Covid testing on 31st March

Austria's mass Covid testing scheme is set to be phased out from March 31st, replaced by a targeted testing program.

A Covid antigen test seen up close.
A health worker prepares a coronavirus antigen rapid test at the new coronavirus test center in the Orangery of the Schoenbrunn Palace on February 4, 2021 as Vienna expands its capacities for the rapid antigen test, amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Austria’s mass testing strategy was one of the most comprehensive in the world, having cost an estimated 2.6 billion euros since the start of the pandemic. 

The centrepiece of the testing scheme was free antigen tests for Austrian residents. 

The country will then move to a more “targeted test strategy”, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Grüne) said at a press conference on Thursday. 

The amendment to the infection law approved this Thursday allows the Ministry to determine for what purpose, with which test methods, and at what frequency any screening programs at the federal government’s expense could be carried out.

This would likely mean an end to Austria’s free and readily available tests. However, Mückstein said, tests will “of course” remain free for those who need them. The minister said that many experts had been in favour of a “paradigm shift” in the test strategy, taking into account the new omicron variant. 

Mückstein praised Vienna’s role in the test strategy, with easy PCR tests for anyone who wants to take them and several testing offers.

Vienna’s “special way”

At his press conference on 16 February, when he stated Vienna would keep many of the restrictions the federal government was lifting, the capital’s Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) had defended the current testing strategy. 

Later, he pressed on the issue several times, saying he sees the PCR tests as “important in several ways”, including taking people away from the chain of infection at an early stage.

Despite that, Ludwig also said the city would depend on federal funding to keep testing as it does. Today, Ludwig’s party, SPÖ, criticised the “dismantling of the test regime” during the National Council session. 

The party’s health secretary, Alois Stöger, alerted that the new rules would mean the government would start making decisions based on finances and cost instead of health and medical necessity. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

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

As the Easter holidays begin, here's all you need to know in order to get a free Covid test and what to do if it comes back positive.

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

Easter holidays are a big deal in Europe, with many countries having an entire week of days off of school and families travelling all over the continent.

So if you are heading to Austria, here’s what you need to know to enjoy the nice weather without (so many) concerns.

Entry rules to Austria

First things first: are you following the country’s entry rules? Austria has eased restrictions for travellers back in February. People only need to show proof that they are either fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have recently recovered from it or can show a negative Covid-19 test result.

Austria accepts vaccines from several laboratories as proof of vaccination for entry into the territory, including the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Travellers who can show the so-called 3G proof don’t need to quarantine or fill in any online forms. Additionally, children under the age of 12 are exempt from the regulations. They do not need to be tested, vaccinated, or recovered.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are Austria’s current entry and Covid rules?

What do I do if I suspect I have Covid-19?

If there is only suspicion, you should get tested. There are several ways to get tested for free in Austria, but if you have symptoms, you should call the Austrian health line on number 1450.

A nurse will be able to assess your symptoms and either classify you as a suspected case or give you further information on how to reach a general practitioner – or even go to a hospital if necessary.

If you are a suspected case, you could be referred to a specific test facility, or someone will be sent to the place where you are staying for a PCR test.

You can check a list of Vienna testing centres here.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What to do if you test positive in Austria

How can I get tested for free?

Since April 1st, Austria has changed its testing policy, and free Covid-19 tests are no longer unlimited in the country.

People will be entitled to five PCR and five antigen tests a month, though testing as a suspected case does not fall into that limit.

One of the easiest ways to get a free Covid PCR test, especially for people who don’t speak German, is using the Alles Gurgelt offers. For this, you need to sign up to the website, which is also available for Upper Austria.

When you click “jetzt registrieren“, you are taken to the partner company website. There are several languages to pick from, including English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

When asked for a social security number, you can just enter the digit 0000 together with your date of birth, as instructed by the website.

Tourists can also use test streets and “test boxes”, as you only need to bring a registration confirmation and an official ID and wear an FFP2 mask. The registration is made online, and you can check a box stating that you don’t have an Austrian social security number (Sozialversicherungsnummer).

READ ALSO: Vienna: How tourists, visitors (and residents) can get free Covid tests

What if my test comes back positive?

If you have tested positive for Covid-19, you are required to stay in isolation, which can be done in a hotel room, rented property, or in the house of the people you are staying with. In the latter case, your friends and family staying in the same place as you won’t have to go into quarantine.

If they are fully vaccinated, they are not considered contact persons. However, they should still get tested.

While in isolation, you are not allowed to leave the place you are staying for any other reason than health and safety emergencies.

You need to stay at home quarantined for 10 days. The quarantine can be ended automatically after five days if a PCR test comes back negative or with a CT value above 30 if you don’t have any symptoms for at least 48h.

READ ALSO: Austria: I’ve stashed away Covid tests. Can I use them from April?

Can I return home if I test positive?

Public health officers can decide whether individuals are allowed to travel home. Usually, this is allowed when travelling by private car. Train or plane journeys are not permitted with suspected or confirmed symptoms.

Useful vocabulary

Absonderungsbescheid: A segregation notice obliges a person to isolate himself from other people as much as possible. This is often referred to as quarantine.
Kontaktpersonen: Contact persons are persons who have been in contact (shake hands, conversation,…) with a person who tested positive.
Ansteckung: Infection.
Verdachtsfall: Suspected case.
Testergebnis: Test result.

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