SHARE
COPY LINK

COVID-19 RULES

ANALYSIS: Are Vienna’s tighter Covid measures ‘a mistake’?

Vienna's decision to keep Covid rules place puts it at odds with the rest of the country. Austrian journalist Stefan Haderer asks if the decision is prudent pandemic management or a barrier in the journey back to normality.

Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

After four lockdowns and despite constantly high numbers of Covid-19 infections, Austrians celebrated their “Freedom Day” on March 5th.

Many Corona restrictions were dropped, including the heavily disputed 2G rule.

In the eyes of Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig easing the Corona restrictions in Austria was “a mistake”.

Vienna remains vigilant by maintaining several restrictions such as “2G” and registration in restaurants and clubs – much to the dismay of many politicians and business owners.

EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new Covid rules?

The capital’s “tough way” and its fervent testing strategy have also caused growing discontent among health experts and dissent in the social media.

Critics see more harm than good for the population and negative effects, both economic and social, in the long run.

But why is Mayor Ludwig insisting on his own way and, as his opponents claim, undermining a national Corona strategy?

Vienna’s eager Covid testing is questioned

Ludwig’s main argument is to stay cautious and avoid chaos in hospitals by an unforeseen rise in patients. Compared to all other Austrian provinces though, Vienna still has the highest number of cases, with about 9,000 new infections registered on March 8th.

The fact that infections in Austria are on a constantly high level may be due to excessive testing, experts say.

Spending more than 2.6 billion Euros on free PCR and antigen tests, Austria has become an undisputed “Covid testing champion” at least in Europe – with little positive output after contact-tracing has collapsed and national debt is skyrocketing.  

Virologists and health experts, including members of the Gecko Corona committee, now openly speak out against “mass testing” and demand a shift towards specified and targeted testing.

The government has announced to stop free Covid testing as of April this year. Ludwig and his team are alarmed.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig hold their novel coronavirus antigen rapid tests (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

His party, SPÖ Vienna, tweeted that testing has become “a good tradition we shouldn’t throw overboard.” The tweet has sparked outraged reactions among social media users.

Young mothers, in particular, keep writing posts about feeling “harassed” by having their children tested at school at least twice a week and their fear of ongoing quarantines and home-schooling. 

In interviews, older citizens tend to show more understanding for Vienna’s “cautious way” in a pandemic full of surprises, new variants and unexpected waves.

However, they unanimously agree to be confused by the rules and measures taken in Austria, which differ from region to region.

Ludwig’s insistence on a tougher strategy in Vienna has largely contributed to this perception, critics admonish.

And the government’s recent decision to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations is just another piece in the puzzle of an apparently incoherent and contradictory national communication strategy.

UPDATED: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

A strategy that failed?

Since former chancellor Sebastian Kurz turned away from the ÖVP’s traditional coalition partner SPÖ, the relationship between Austria’s two largest parties has become frozen.

The months after the first lockdown in March 2020 have been marked by dispute, dissent and allegations, especially between the ÖVP-Green government and the SPÖ.

Before stepping down due to chat and corruption affairs, Kurz stated several times that the pandemic was over, thanking his team on posters for successfully managing the Corona crisis.

As Austria went into another lockdown in autumn 2022, the population’s confidence in the government had plummeted.  

Ludwig reiterated that the pandemic “was not over” by choosing a more stringent and consistent approach for Vienna, a path other SPÖ-governed provinces refuse to take.

According to a survey by the “Market Institut”, over 48 percent of the interviewees would still vote for Michael Ludwig as a mayor. Public opinion in social media and forums, however, is far more critical. Many users agree with Elisabeth Köstinger, Austria’s Minister of Tourism, who has called Ludwig to “stick to experts’ opinions” and put an end to stricter measures causing even more damage in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

When the mayor announced that the 2G rule would remain in force in Vienna at least until April, a large number of commentators announced they would rather eat out in nearby Lower Austria or Burgenland without any “senseless restrictions” which will “never be terminated” in the capital.

READ MORE: Could Austria’s mandatory Covid-19 vaccination return in autumn?

The mayor’s fiercest critics argue that Vienna’s “testing mania” has proved to be inefficient and costly. Some warn that certain measures in Austria have largely contributed to social polarisation resulting in ongoing anti-Corona demonstrations along the Ringstrasse.

There are also voices in favour of carefully easing further restrictions. However, they wonder why Ludwig mainly relies on Corona testing while he neglects other more fact-based and less costly measures like regular disinfection on buses and trains. 

The Gecko committee and the Austrian government have not agreed on what their future Corona strategy will be like. Experts hope that in the coming months communication will be at least more clear. This may also depend on a less federalist approach.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

VIENNA

Everything that’s new in Vienna in December

From new energy bonuses being sent out to important trials and major events, here are the important changes, dates and events happening in Vienna in December.

Everything that's new in Vienna in December

Vienna will send €200 bonuses to help cushion rising energy costs

The City of Vienna announced more government assistance to cushion rising costs for residents.

Viennese households will receive €200 in a new “energy bonus’, as The Local reported. The administration said the bonus would benefit about two-thirds of all city homes.

Single households with a gross annual income of a maximum €40,000 or multi-person households with an income of up to €100,000 gross per year are entitled to receive the payment. 

In December, every household in the capital should receive an information letter with a password they will need to use for an online application for the bonus. Once applied for, the money should arrive within a few days”.

READ MORE: Vienna Energy Bonus: How to get a €200 payout

Influenza vaccination appointments

The City of Vienna has made available 64,000 influenza vaccination appointments for December in the city’s vaccination centres and those of the ÖGK. 

The City is investing a total of €9.9 million to be able to offer the flu vaccination campaign in Vienna free of charge again this year.  The campaign will run until the end of the year unless an extension becomes necessary due to high demand.

The influenza vaccination campaign focuses on people aged over 65. This avoids multiple exposures to Covid-19 and the “real flu”. Chronically ill people, children and health or care workers are also among the priority target groups. However, influenza vaccination is also recommended to all other people.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Vienna starts inquiry committee over Wien Energie

Starting on December 2nd at the Vienna City Hall, the City Council’s investigative commission on the Wien Energie case will meet every two weeks.

On the initiative of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), it will investigate the events surrounding the dramatic financial needs of Wien Energie that became known in the summer. The commission can summon people to testify and request documents.

They will focus on two issues.

The first concerns the extent to which Mayor Michael Ludwig and City Finance Councillor Peter Hanke have exercised their ownership rights regarding Wien Energie, which is wholly owned by the city via Wiener Stadtwerke. Specifically, the commission wants to know whether the two SPÖ politicians reacted in time and appropriately to the price increases in the electricity markets in the summer.

The second matter revolves around Ludwig’s emergency powers as head of the city, with which he granted Wien Energie loans totalling €1.4 billion. It is to be clarified whether this procedure was legally compliant and whether Ludwig should have informed committees such as the City Senate earlier.

READ ALSO: Why did Wien Energie ask for €6 billion from the Austrian government?

Terror trial continues

On November 2nd, 2020, a jihadist terrorist shot dead four people and injured more than 20 in the centre of Vienna before police forces killed him.

Now, the country is going through a complex trial involving six men who allegedly helped the shooter prepare for the attack started. The process first started in October, as The Local reported, but a final verdict is not expected until at least February.

In December, tricky trial stages are scheduled, including questioning people suspected of having sold weapons to the terrorist.

READ ALSO: Austria starts trial over Vienna jihadist shooting

Armed police officers stand guard by the area where the terrorist attack took place in Vienna, Austria on November, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

This Human World Festival

The This Human World Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary and it focuses on the theme of human rights. In four Viennese cinemas (Schikaneder, Topkino, Gartenbaukino, Stadtkino) and two other venues (Brunnenpassage, Brotfabrik) you can watch films that deal with human rights, current conflicts and crises from December 1st to 11th. 

About 90 feature films, documentaries and short films await you – some of them will celebrate their Austrian premiere at the festival. 

The aim of the film festival is to draw attention to political and social grievances in a sensitive, stirring and occasionally humorous way.

You can read more about the event HERE.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” is touring worldwide and the major exhibition about the wizard’s universe will get its first European location in Vienna on December 16th, 2022. The show will be housed in the METAStadt in the 22nd district (Dr.-Otto-Neurath-Gasse 3).

The ticket sale has already started on the official site of the exhibition and via oeticket. Tickets are available from € 24.90 for children (up to 12 years) and € 29.90 for adults (from 13 years).

Weihnachtsmärkte

Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.

But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit. Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19th to December 26th.

The Viennese markets are drawing in thousands of tourists to the Austrian capital. Don’t miss out on all the Glüwein (even if it is more expensive this year), geröstete Kastanien and Weihnachtskugeln you can get. 

FOR MEMBERS: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas markets in Austria

Public holidays

Besides Christmas (December 25th) and Stephan’s Day (December 26th), December 8th, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.

Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.

On December 4th, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5th, Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6th, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.

Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24th, 25th and 26th) are important dates for Austrian traditions.

It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24th, usually with a family meal.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

New Year celebrations

Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – and especially in Vienna.

In the capital, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.

But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.

SHOW COMMENTS