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Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Monday

Every weekday, The Local brings you an English-language summary of the news you need to know in Austria.

Children wearing masks
Austria may drop its mask mandate after Easter if numbers keep dropping (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Anti-war demonstrations in Vienna

Thousands of people demonstrated in Vienna against the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Sunday as part of an initiative by the artist Daniel Landau, who organised the “Yes we care” demo to pay tribute to health workers and those lost during the corona pandemic in Austria last year.

The outer castle gates of Heldenplatz, also known as Heldentor, was lit up in the colours of the Ukranian flag. From now on, this should happen daily from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends until midnight, according to the Federal Chancellery.

The Heldentor in Vienna

The Heldentor in Vienna will be illuminated every evening with the national colours of Ukraine. (BKA/Wenzel)

Austria closes airspace and airports to Russian Aircraft

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced on Sunday that Austria would also close its airspace and airports to Russian aircraft.

He wrote “We are doing everything to show Vladimir Putin that we do not accept his invasion of Ukraine!” on Twitter.

Further relaxation of mask rules

As many children across Austria return to school, mask rules have been further relaxed from today. Children already did not have to wear a mask when seated at their desks, now they do not have to be masked if they are in the classroom or group room.

People from outside the school, such as sports trainers or parents who want to help with reading, are allowed into school again. School attendance is once more compulsory, so parents can no longer excuse their children from class without a medical certificate.

In addition, classes no longer have to go into distance learning for five days after two Covid-19 cases are detected within three days.

Rule changes: School attendance in Austria to become obligatory again

Instead, the decision on how to proceed in the event of several cases of infection in the class should  be made by the respective state health authority.

From March 5th, vaccinated and recovered teachers or other adults will be able to take off their FFP2 masks in the classroom or group room.

Austria ready to accept refugees

Austria’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) has confirmed that Austria’s Interior Ministry is working to coordinate groups and individuals who want to provide accommodation for those fleeing Ukraine.

The coordination centre can be reached via the e-mail address [email protected]

Anti-vaccination party MFG wins seats in Austria’s municipal offices

The MFG party, which opposes the government’s vaccination campaign, has won places in 47 municipal offices in Tyrol in elections on Sunday.

EXPLAINED: Who are MFG – Austria’s vaccine-sceptic party?

It won the third largest share of the vote in the city of Kufstein and out of 50 communities, only failed to win seats in the three Schwaz communities of Eben am Achensee, Fügen and Mayrhofen.

However, the 22 MFG mayoral candidates were less successful. None of them achieved a majority or won a runoff.

Mayoral elections in Tyrol raise questions

There will be runoff mayoral elections in 31 municipalities in Tyrol on 13th March. The ÖVP party had some disappointing results in Tyrol’s cities, with Zams, the ÖVP governor Günther Platter’s home town, voting in a left wing SPÖ party candidate as mayor.

It is also not clear if Green politician Ingrid Felipe, who has been working with Platter as the deputy governor, will run as a candidate in the 2023 state elections.

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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.