Covid-19: Vienna confirms masks and 2G to apply ‘until April’

On Tuesday, Vienna's Mayor Michael Ludwig announced stricter Covid-19 rules will remain in place in the capital as the rest of the country prepares to relax restrictions this weekend.

Covid-19: Vienna confirms masks and 2G to apply 'until April'
As new variants raise concerns, Austria is keeping its mask mandate. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) confirmed on Tuesday that Vienna will remain with 2G rules and the widespread use of face masks – probably until April.

Ludwig said restrictions would only be eased when the number of infections have reduced, which is expected to happen in March.

This means 2G (recovered or vaccinated) rules will remain in place in Vienna for gastronomy and hotels, and FFP2 masks will still be required in all public indoor areas, such as shops and public transport.

The news comes as the rest of Austria prepares for a relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on Saturday March 5th.

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

During the announcement, Ludwig said he is “very sceptical” about the extensive opening steps across Austria from Saturday while case rates remain high. He also said he expects the 2G rule for gastronomy to stay in place in Vienna for some time.

Additionally, the 2G+ rule (recovered and vaccinated plus booster or negative PCR test) for hospitals will remain in the capital.

What are the nationwide Covid-19 rules from Saturday?

From March 5th, most of Austria’s Covid-19 rules will be removed.

This means the end to 2G and 3G requirements (proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test) to enter venues, as well as the re-opening of night clubs, and the removal of the current midnight curfew for restaurants. 

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

FOR MEMBERS: Everything that changes about life in Austria in March 2022

These proofs are also still required for travel into Austria, but for entry into the country 3G will apply rather than the current 2G+ rule. However, any countries classed as virus variant countries will have stricter requirements (at the moment there are no countries on the list).

Also on March 5th, 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.

Essentially, the FFP2 mask requirement is set to cover only those indoor areas where people can’t opt out of being present.

The re-opening plan was announced by the Federal Government on February 16th following a summit with scientific experts and regional governors, with Chancellor Karl Nehammer dubbing the relaxations a “spring awakening”.

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UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, with 2,428 people currently hospitalised with the disease, including 118 in intensive care (ICU).

One month ago, just 871 people were being treated in hospital with an additional 47 people in ICU.

The Austrian Federal Government has now said they will make a decision on bringing back the mask mandate by October 23rd. Last week, the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) recommended wearing FFP2 masks.

According to ORF, the mask mandate could return for public indoor spaces, public transport and in the gastronomy sector. The Austrian Trade Association has already rejected the suggestion saying it would be the “last straw” for employees as the industry struggles with staff shortages.

What are the Covid-19 experts predicting for the autumn and winter season?

The latest report from the Covid prognosis consortium in Austria predicts a rise in hospitalisations in October. 

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.