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COVID-19 RULES

Record Covid case numbers: How close is Austria to a new lockdown?

With a skyrocketing number of cases since its "Freedom Day", several people have called for a reintroduction of safety measures

Peopele walk past Hofburg palace at Michaeler square in Vienna, Austria on November 22, 2021. - Austria has entered a nationwide lockdown in an effort to contain spiraling coronavirus infections. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Peopele walk past Hofburg palace at Michaeler square in Vienna, Austria on November 22, 2021. - Austria has entered a nationwide lockdown in an effort to contain spiraling coronavirus infections. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Less than a week since Austria’s ‘Freedom Day’ saw the relaxation of most Covid measures, case numbers are skyrocketing, and experts and politicians have argued for some restrictions to come back. The Health Ministry, however, does not want to introduce new restrictions.

For the last two days, Austria has had record Covid numbers, posting 47,795 new cases on Wednesday, 9, and again 49,432 new cases on Thursday. This Friday, the federal government announced 49,323 new infections in 24 hours.

Though the numbers in hospitals and intensive care units are not as dramatic, doctors have already issued warnings about the overworked and tired staff.

READ MORE: Austria hits daily record number of Covid cases

Medical Association Vice Harald Mayer told Austria’s Krone Zeitung newspaper, “we are running out of beds, some of the staff are exhausted and unnerved or infected, quit in rows or are looking for transfers”.

The rising numbers come just about a week after Austria had its “Freedom Day”, with most restrictions being lifted in the country. This week, the country also announced that the legal requirement to have the Covid-19 vaccine would not be implemented as planned, following a report by experts that it was “not proportionate” due to the milder Omicron strain of the virus.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new Covid rules?

Criticism of the relaxations

Since March 5th, the “G” rules were removed in most of Austria, and clubs and venues reopened not only for vaccinated and recovered but for the unvaccinated as well. The mask mandate was also removed in most areas, except for “essential” places such as supermarkets and public transport.

Vienna did not follow suit, and the capital kept the 2G rule (vaccinated or recovered) for gastronomy and an FFP2 mask mandate for all indoor areas. 

The city’s Mayor Michael Ludwig was also one of the first to criticise reopening steps, both when he announced Vienna would not adopt the federal government’s reopening plans and when the country reported record infection numbers.

On Twitter, the SPÖ politician raised his concerns and called on the Health Ministry to “seriously deal with the high number of cases”. 

Ludwig pointed out that the country has record-level infection rates, saying removing restrictive measures was a mistake, and Vienna would keep following its “consistent path”.

Reversal path and preventive measures

Several specialists and politicians have called for some of the measures to be reinstated. 

Austria’s Corona Commission has recommended implementing some “preventive measures” to halt the rising numbers. However, the commission stopped short of mentioning “reintroduction” of measures and, so far, a new lockdown has not been suggested by experts.

Medical attorney Sigrid Pilz this Friday, 11, said in the Ö1 “Morning Journal”: “I don’t understand how you can’t see a need for action in the current situation.” She also criticised the suspension of the vaccination mandate, saying the move “creates uncertainty”. 

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

Sigrid Pilz advocates the introduction of a mask requirement in all indoor areas, including schools, work from home schemes where possible, and ventilation systems in public buildings.

Molecular biologist Ulrich Elling told Krone that masks were the “simplest and most effective measure for controlling infection dynamics” but had been “abandoned” by the government.  

“Masks should be compulsory”. 

Epidemiologist Eva Schernhammer warned that with such a high number of infections, the health system would very well be brought to its limits.

Health Ministry to stay on course

The Health Ministry, however, has decided not to turn on the reopening steps. 

“We must be cautious not to lose acceptance and understanding among the population. A tightening of the corona measures a few days after the extensive opening would not be possible to present to people”, he said, according to Die Presse.

The Ministry said that not only the new number of cases should be considered, but also the proportion of symptomatic patients and the burden on hospitals. 

49,323 new infections were recorded from Thursday to Friday, according to the health commission. This is above the average of the past seven days of 37,628.

27 more deaths related to the coronavirus in 24 hours have been reported. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have already been 15,163 deaths.

A total of 2,751 infected people were treated in the hospitals on Thursday. In addition, 176 patients were in intensive care units.

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TRAVEL NEWS

LATEST: What are Austria’s current Covid-19 rules?

Travellers entering the country no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, but masks are still mandatory in some places.

LATEST: What are Austria's current Covid-19 rules?

From Monday, May 16th, travellers coming into Austria no longer need to present proof that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have tested negative for the disease, or recently recovered from it.

Previously, the so-called 3G rules were in place for all people coming into Austria, with very few exceptions.

The government over the weekend dropped the requirements just ahead of warmer months, stating that the epidemiological situation no longer justified them.

On Sunday, 15th, Austria reported 3,777 new coronavirus cases after just under 110,000 PCR tests were taken. In total, 807 people are currently hospitalised with the disease, and 62 are in intensive care units. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,303 people have died from Covid-19 in Austria.

Despite dropping the entry requirements, the federal government reiterated that the rules could change, mainly if a variant of concern is found.

READ ALSO: Austria extends Covid regulations as experts warn of autumn resurgence

Domestically, Austria still has a few coronavirus restrictions in place, including an FFP2 mask mandate in some areas.

These are the latest rules you need to be aware of:

FFP2 mask mandate

The obligation to wear an FFP2 mask only applies in enclosed spaces of hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport (including stops and stations), taxis, customer areas of vital trade, such as supermarkets, and administrative buildings.

The mask mandate is no longer in place for enclosed places like gyms, restaurants and bars, and cultural establishments, but masks are still recommended.

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

Isolation after a positive test

After the fifth day of isolation and at least 48 hours without symptoms, you can end quarantine for mild or asymptomatic cases.

However, there is a “traffic restriction” for another five days, with a mask mandate and no entry permitted in gastronomy venues, health and care homes, and events during this period.

READ ALSO: Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

In order to obtain an early lifting of the restrictions, a free PCR test can be carried out. If the test is negative or with a CT value (short for Cycle Threshold and is the gold standard for detecting Covid-19) above 30, the isolation can be lifted.

If the value is below 30, then you must remain in isolation.

Vienna doesn’t follow the ‘traffic restriction’, so the only way to end the 10-day isolation is with a PCR test (negative or CT value below 30) after two symptom-free days.

You can find more information on federal restrictions on the government website here.

The 3G rule

A 3G rule (proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, recently recovered from the disease or has a negative test) is generally only needed for visitors, employees and service providers in hospitals and care homes.

READ ALSO: Ba.4 and Ba.5 Covid variants detected in Austria: What you need to know

In Vienna, on the other hand, the rules are stricter.

Visitors and workers need to have the 3G proof plus a negative PCR test. However, the city has dropped 2G rules for gastronomy and nightclubs – the only places where it was still required to show proof of vaccination or recovery.

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