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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

Cherry blossom trees
It's going to be warm and cloudy today. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Changes to electricity tax and climate bonus proposed

Austria’s Finance Minister Magnus Brunner (ÖVP) has told the Zib2 programme that he does not plan to reduce VAT on oil and gas, as this would primarily benefit the wealthy. He said in any case, the EU sets minimum rates of tax, which he is proposing should be relaxed first.

Such a measure requires unanimity from all EU countries, broadcaster ORF reports.

Brunner also said he wants to go ahead with CO2 taxation later in the year, which is linked to a climate bonus compensation payment, in theory cancelling out the tax for lower income households.

This climate bonus may now be increased to combat fuel poverty. However, Brunner does want to cancel electricity tax, which would result in annual savings of around €60 for an average household. 

Upper Austria’s governor wants to scrap Covid-19 quarantine

The ÖVP Governor of Upper Austria, Thomas Stelzer, wants to change the quarantine rules for people infected with Covid-19, he said in an interview with the ÖO Nachrichten website.

In light of current staff shortages in hospitals and other settings, Stelzer called for asymptomatic people to be released from quarantine and be allowed to go to work, while suggesting only those with symptoms should stay home while they felt ill.

However, the opposition SPÖ health spokesman Peter Binder said abandoning quarantine measures would mean “capitulating to the deadly virus”. 

Since Austria (apart from Vienna) lifted all its Covid-19 measures on March 5th, numbers of infections have risen sharply, and are set to continue to rise for a week or two.  

According to the Upper Austria Covid-19  dashboard, there are currently more than more than 54,000 infected people, and almost 69,000 people are in quarantine in the entire state.

Vienna’s hospitals under strain as ten percent of staff are off sick

In Vienna a huge number of hospital staff are also on sick leave due to the high numbers of Covid-19 infections.

Around ten percent of nurses, doctors and healthcare staff at the city’s clinics are currently on sick leave, according to broadcaster ORF. The situation is not expected to ease until April. 

Innsbruck and Upper Austria welcome Ukrainian refugees

The city of Innsbruck has set up a contact centre for people who have fled war in Ukraine. The Marillac building on Innsbruck’s Sennstrasse will be open 24 hours a day. People can go there to be registered and given a health check. Accommodation will also be distributed there. People who wish to house refugees in Tyrol are asked to email   the registration office at [email protected]

READ MORE: How Vienna is helping thousands of Ukrainian refugees arriving by train

The state of Upper Austria has taken in 73 orphans from Ukraine. The children were previously housed in Sieverodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, before being moved to Lviv. The children arrived in St. Georgen im Attergau (Upper Austria) on Monday, having been bussed from Ukraine following Russian attacks. An old sanatorium will be used to house the children.

Slovenia slashes price of petrol and diesel

Austrians living near the border with Slovenia may be tempted to fill up their cars in the neighbouring country. Slovenia has just ​​capped the price of normal petrol to €1.503 per litre, while a litre of diesel will cost no more than €1.541.

These prices will be valid for 30 days, Slovenia’s Economy Minister Zdravko Pocivalsek announced on Monday.

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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.

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