SHARE
COPY LINK

COVID-19 RULES

Free Covid-19 tests to be limited in Austria from April

The Austrian Federal Government has revised the country’s Covid-19 strategy, including the end of unlimited free tests.

Free Covid-19 tests to be limited in Austria from April
Unlimited free Covid-19 tests are coming to an end in Austria. Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP.

From April 1st, residents in Austria will be entitled to five PCR and five antigen tests per month in a departure from the unlimited free tests that are currently available.

Covid-19 tests will also be available for symptomatic cases and those in at-risk settings, such as in schools and hospitals.

During the announcement, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) confirmed that people can only submit five free tests per month, which means people can’t use unused tests from someone else.

READ MORE: Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Additionally, from March 21st, close contacts of a positive case will no longer have to quarantine completely and will be able to go to work or shopping while wearing a mask, but not to restaurants or events.

Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) has already criticised the move and said there might be stricter rules in Vienna.

Ludwig said: “We in @Stadt_Wien were not spoken to about this. Although the test regime in Vienna has continuously provided valuable insights into the development and containment of the pandemic.”

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

Der Standard reports that Rauch was in favour of retaining some element of free testing in Austria.

This followed comments by Finance Minister Magnus Brunner of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) who recently said Covid-19 tests should no longer be free in Austria due to the high cost.

Widespread free testing has long been the cornerstone of Austria’s Covid strategy, with one of the world’s most extensive testing schemes. 

So far, Austria has spent €3 billion on Covid-19 tests since the start of the pandemic. 

Member comments

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

COVID-19 STATS

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.

SHOW COMMENTS