From April 1st, the number of free Covid-19 tests will be limited to 10 per month for every person living in Austria.
This is a stark change in Austria’s approach to managing Covid-19 and coincides with an end to full quarantine for close contacts of positive cases from March 21st.
However, there are questions about how the new rules will be implemented and monitored.
Here’s what you need to know.
What are the new Covid-19 testing rules?
With the new Covid-19 testing rules, Austrian residents will be able to access five PCR and five antigen tests per month for free from April 1st.
According to Der Standard, PCR tests will be available through state-specific programs, although the logistics are yet to be confirmed. Antigen tests, also known as “living room tests” because they are administered at home, will be distributed via pharmacies.
Prices for additional tests if the monthly free quota has already been used will be decided by individual test centres.
So far, widespread free testing has been the cornerstone of Austria’s Covid strategy, with one of the world’s most extensive testing schemes.
Since the start of the pandemic, Austria has spent €3 billion on Covid-19 tests.
How will compliance with the rules be monitored?
It has not yet been confirmed how the number of tests issued to a person each month will be monitored.
But during the announcement on Tuesday, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said people can only submit five free tests per month, which means unused tests can’t be passed on to another person.
What about tests for people with Covid-19 symptoms?
The new rules exclude additional free tests for symptomatic cases and close contacts, although fully vaccinated people (with at least two doses) are no longer considered as close contacts of infected people.
In these cases, free PCR tests can be accessed by contacting the 1450 Covid-19 helpline.
Free tests will also continue to be available for people in high-risk settings, like hospitals and schools.
What are the rules for unvaccinated people?
The new testing rules apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
However, unvaccinated people will be impacted by the new quarantine rules for close contacts that will allow them to go to work and shopping, but not visit gastronomy (cafes, bars and restaurants) or attend events.
Currently, proof of 3G (tested, vaccinated or recovered) is not needed to enter gastronomy outlets nationwide, with an exception in Vienna where 2G rules (proof of vaccination or recovery) are still in force.
Additionally, the Green Pass does not show if someone is a close contact, so it is not known how this will be monitored.
Do the new rules apply to everywhere in Austria?
The new testing rules apply nationwide but individual states can implement tougher restrictions if they choose to, as with previous Covid-19 rule changes.
Vienna is a prime example of this with stricter rules regarding 2G for gastronomy.
What are the reactions to the new rules?
Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig has already spoken out against the new testing rules and said Vienna might take a different approach. A meeting will be held in the Austrian capital on Thursday to discuss the situation.
On Wednesday, the Vienna Chamber of Commerce described the current unlimited free testing rule as “reasonable”.
Criticism has also come from Sigrid Pilz, the head of the Viennese Nursing and Patient Ombudsman, who said removing protection for children was “not acceptable”.
Currently in Vienna, around 345,000 Covid-19 tests are carried out every day. The new rules in April will mean only around 270,000 tests will be allowed.
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