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

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

A couple checks the view from the roof-top balcony of the Haus Des Meeres indoor Zoo in Vienna.
Watch out for the Sahara dust over Austria today (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Debate over reducing Austria’s speed limits on roads

As The Local reported on Tuesday, a debate is currently underway in Austria over whether to reduce the speed limit on motorways, dual carriages and other roads to reduce the need for Russian oil and gas.

A speed limit of 100 km/h is proposed on motorways and dual carriageways instead of 130 km/h. On open roads this could be reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria

The Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club (ÖAMTC) says the effect would only  reduce one to three percent of domestic fuel consumption, based on data from the Vienna University of Technology.

However the environmentalist group GLOBAL 2000 says driving at  100 km/h uses ten percent less fuel than going at 130 km/h, the Kronen Zeitung newspaper reports.   

Austria in top three of Covid-19 infections in Europe

More than 300,000 people were infected with the Covid-19 in the past week in Austria – giving the Alpine state one of the highest rates of infection in Europe.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), only Iceland and Liechtenstein had a higher incidence of infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a comparison of 46 European countries.

However, some European countries have low rates of testing in comparison to Austria, broadcaster ORF noted. 

The statistics portal “Our World in Data” shows Austria has overtaken France in terms of Covid-19 hospitalisations. Austria had 318 patients per million inhabitants in hospital for Covid-19 on March 14th. Only Latvia with 566 hospitalised patients per million inhabitants, Slovakia (477), Estonia (473) and Bulgaria (460) are ahead of Austria in terms of hospital numbers.

Covid-19: Austria among highest hospitalisation rates in Europe

Criticism of change to quarantine and testing regulations

There has been criticism of proposed changes to Austria’s quarantine and testing rules, with quarantine times being reduced for contacts of infected people who are unvaccinated and tests limited in number from April.

A member of the scientific advisory group GECKO Gerry Foitik  said some  “decisions” had been made “politically”. The ÖGB trade union described the government’s course as “irresponsible”. 

Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig, who is in the opposition SPÖ party, also criticised the decisions. Discussions are in place to see if Vienna can lift these measures in line with the rest of Austria. 

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

Vienna unveils energy support package

Vienna will pay 200 euros to households on low incomes to combat energy price increases. The rise in fuel prices means on average people in the capital are paying an extra 500 euros for energy. The payments will go to recipients of housing assistance, the unemployed, people who receive minimum income and pensioners with a minimum pension.

The scheme will cost 50 million euros. A further 26 million euros has been set aside to help households update their heating and electricity systems to remove “energy guzzlers”.

There will also be subsidies available for green energy initiatives such as solar panels, broadcaster ORF reports. 

EXPLAINED: How to claim your €200 voucher for electronics repair in Austria

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees start school in Vienna

Vienna has announced it has already offered 800 refugee children from Ukraine a place at school, where they will get free school meals. The city said it was looking for native Ukrainian speakers to help the children settle into Austria. 

Ukraine conflict: Would NATO protect non-member Austria?

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

Inflation at 7.2 percent, Austria tries to reduce dependence on Russian gas and more news on Thursday.

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

Inflation rose to 7.2 percent in April

Inflation in Austria has continued to accelerate. According to Statistics Austria, the inflation rate in April was 7.2 percent – ​​the last time there was such a high inflation rate was in October 1981. Expenditure on transport and housing accounted for three-fifths of inflation. Compared to the previous month of March, the price level rose by 0.4 percent. “In addition to fuel and energy products, rising food prices are currently also responsible for the rise in inflation,” said Statistics Austria Director General Tobias Thomas on Wednesday.


Austria plans to reduce dependence on Russian gas by 10 percent

Austria is to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by ten percent (taking it to 70 percent) by connecting the Haidach gas storage facility in Salzburg to the Austrian gas network before the end of this year. This  strategic gas reserve, which previously served Bavaria in nearby Germany, is to be increased by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This will cover the gas consumption of two winter months, broadcaster ORF

The additional gas volume of the strategic reserve should come from non-Russian sources, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) has promised. 

In addition, the National Council passed a regulation on Thursday allowing the state to commission suppliers with the provision and storage of natural gas. Industrial companies that store gas are to be given collateral. They should also be able to dispose of their gas reserves themselves in the event of a crisis. Only when system stability requires it does the state access these reserves in exchange for compensation.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Labour Chamber raises concerns that a third of Viennese adults do not have Austrian citizenship

Austria’s Labour Chamber (Arbeitkammer) has pointed out many people working and living in Vienna are excluded from the democratic process, because they are not Austrian citizens. In a thread on Twitter, the organisation noted that 30 percent of Viennese people over 16 do not have Austrian citizenship, including many young people who were born in Austria. In Austria, if your parents are not Austrian, you must submit proof you have lived legally in Austria for five years and have been resident for 10 years, according to the Chamber. You must also prove that your net income (after bills, housing costs and loan repayments) is above €1,030.49. The chamber points out only a third of Austrians themselves meet these stringent requirements. 


Warnings over large numbers of train passengers on upcoming public holidays 

Austria’s train company ÖBB is warning “very large number of passengers” are expected to use the railways around the forthcoming holidays of Ascension Day, Pentecost and Corpus Christi. It says it has expanded its capacities as much as possible and additional staff have been deployed, but warns if too many passengers board trains this could lead to the train journey being interrupted “for safety reasons” in “exceptional cases” and passengers without a seat or reservation having to leave the train, according to ÖBB. ORF reports the company recommends making a reservation before travel, especially on the most popular connections – even if you have a climate ticket which offers unlimited annual train travel in Austria. 

Bavaria clashes with Tyrol

Bavaria’s Transport Minister Christian Bernreiter (CSU) has called on EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to initiate infringement proceedings against the Republic of Austria. He claims checks made by Austria in Tyrol before trucks can use the Brenner Pass and the practice of ​​Blockabfertigung (block handling) trucks are causing systematic traffic problems in Bavaria and called for talks in Brussels. Tyrol’s governor Günther Platter (ÖVP) said this demand was “insane”.

Broadcaster ORF reports that there are fears that Munich will also be affected by the same issues as the state of Salzburg is now also examining similar solutions at the Walserberg border crossing. Bernreiter wrote to the President of the Commission to say a solution must finally be found for Alpine transit traffic,: “Residents and truck drivers have been suffering from traffic congestion for far too long.” The problem must be “solved constructively and together”.

Calls to sanction Austria’s former foreign minister who danced with Putin at her wedding

German MEPs have called on the EU Council to sanction Austria’s former foreign minister Karin Kneissl (FPÖ), who notoriously danced with Vladimir Putin at her wedding in 2018. Putin also gave her sapphire earrings worth €50,000 as a wedding gift. The Austrian journalist Armin Wolf told the ZIB programme sanctions could be put in place today (Thursday).

Vienna launched campaign against flushing rubbish down the toilet 

Vienna has launched a campaign to stop people throwing cooking oil and wet wipes down the toilet, after revealing around 20 tonnes of “solids” are removed by the municipal sewage treatment plant in Simmering..

A website provides information about the correct disposal methods for all types of waste. With a “rinse”, users can test their knowledge of what is allowed in the toilet and what is not. A song, performed by five “stool gang” characters, tackles the subject in an easily accessible way and will be used on the radio and in social networks. It will also be shown on adverts in restaurant toilets.  Pouring cooking oil down the sink leads to rats and fatbergs, the city pointed out.

Restaurants and Inns in Vienna may have to put their prices up by up to 20 percent

People wishing to go to Vienna’s inns and restaurants will face bills which are up to 20 percent higher by the end of the year due to increased energy and food prices, the  Vienna Chamber of Commerce has said. Peter Dobcak, chairman of the specialist group for gastronomy in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce told Wien Heute (Vienna Today) on Wednesday that the industry was “torn” because it wanted to reduce the burden on people suffering due to high energy prices, but at the same time, had to keep businesses afloat.

The restaurateur Hans Stöckl, who runs the Gasthaus Nestroy in the second district, said he was struggling with the skyrocketing electricity prices, telling ORF that each months he faced additional costs of up to 900 euros due to this factor alone. Some foods such as cooking oil, flour, eggs and dairy products, have also tripled in price.

There are also concerns that people will stop going out to eat due to the cost of living crisis.