EXPLAINED: Austria’s new Covid-19 testing rules

Unlimited free Covid-19 tests in Austria will come to an end in April. What are the new testing rules and how will they be controlled?

A health worker prepares a coronavirus antigen rapid test at the new coronavirus test center in the Orangery of the Schoenbrunn Palace. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)
A health worker prepares a coronavirus antigen rapid test at the coronavirus test center in the Orangery of the Schönbrunn Palace. Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP.

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.

READ MORE: Almost 60,000: Austria hits record daily Covid case total

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.

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

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.

READ ALSO: Vienna to debate Covid measures on Thursday

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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.