Vienna to debate Covid measures on Thursday

Austria's capital is set to debate on current measures and the pandemic situation as authorities criticise the federal government's relaxations.

Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) will consult with experts on the pandemic situation at noon. A press statement is expected shortly after that.

The mayor has already indicated Austria’s capital city will take a different path than the federal government.

If Ludwig’s recent statements show anything, the Austrian capital may adopt its own tighter preventive measures and precautions regarding the pandemic. 

The mayor has constantly criticised the federal government’s reopening steps, mentioning the dangers of “letting corona run free”. 

“A consistent path in cooperation with the population in combating the pandemic also create respect for the politics. The involvement of experts is also important. Hence, we will continue the Viennese way in fighting Corona”, he said as the Austrian Federal Government announced the end of unlimited free tests and easing of quarantine rules.

At the time, Ludwig had already warned that Vienna might have stricter rules. 

It wouldn’t be the first time. After the federal government announced the end of most restrictions on March 5th, Ludwig called a press meeting to say Vienna would keep 2G rules (vaccinated or recovered) and a broad mask mandate in place. 

Vienna’s Health Secretary Peter Hacker (SPÖ) has also been vocal about his criticism of the federal relaxations. 

“I am speechless at the moment and also a bit stunned by how an experiment is being carried out on over eight million Austrians here,” Hacker said on Wednesday afternoon.

Record Covid numbers

Less than two weeks after all other bundesländer dropped Covid passes and masks (at least in most places), numbers have been soaring in Austria.

READ MORE: Record Covid case numbers: How close is Austria to a new lockdown?

The country recorded almost 60,000 new corona infections in 24 hours, and over 3,000 people are currently in hospitals due to Covid. 

Austria has one of the highest hospitalisation rates in Europe at this point, only behind Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Estonia, and Bulgaria. 

Useful vocabulary

Lockerungen – relaxations

Vorsichtsmaßnahmen – precautions

Quarantäneregeln – quarantine rules

Beratungen – consultations

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Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

As Covid-19 infection numbers continue rising, Austria's government doesn't rule out a comeback of the mask requirement.

Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

Austria has seen rising Covid-19 numbers for weeks, and the country’s traffic light commission has increased the risk rating of all federal states, with none currently designated as “low risk”.

Virologists and health experts have given many explanations for rising numbers and forecast that new infections, currently at more than 12,000 a day, could reach more than 30,000 in the next few weeks.

Austria’s Covid commission said that the omicron subvariant BA.4/BA.5 is a decisive factor in the increase, as it is considered more infectious. “Additionally, an increased proportion of travel-associated cases has been observed in recent weeks”, the commission stated.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

Dorothee von Laer, a Med-Uni Innsbruck virologist, told Der Standard that the new subvariant could be responsible for a new wave as “the protection we have from BA1 infections, and from vaccinations, is not so good against BA.4/BA.5”.

“So people who were infected early on, or who are only vaccinated, have of course some protection against hospitalisation, but almost no or very little protection against infection”, she said.

Von Laer mentioned other factors that likely contributed to the increasing numbers, including the fact that people have stopped wearing masks after the requirement was dropped in most of Austria.

Are masks about to make a comeback?

When Austria’s federal government announced they would drop the Covid mask mandate, they phrased it as a “pause” to the FFP2 masks, which were still mandatory in essential trade and public transport.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said that the mask requirement will be “paused”, as the pandemic is not over yet, and that people should be prepared for a resumption of the rules after summer, as The Local reported.

BACKGROUND: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

Many experts believe FFP2 masks won’t be optional for long if numbers continue rising. Von Laer said, “we will probably have to resort to the mask again, even if the hospitals are not overcrowded because we want to protect the vulnerable people”.

The health minister had already stated that it is time people “take personal responsibility” so that they choose to wear masks in crowds or when close to vulnerable people.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

However, he recently added that if the situation “goes in the direction of overloading the health system, then, of course, I am also obliged to react”.

The minister also said he reassesses the situation every week, observing developments in other countries.

‘We will have to learn’

For Rauch, people will need to learn to live with the masks, as future waves can also be expected in the coming years. He added that we would have to learn to take personal responsibility, make self-assessments, and have solidarity.

READ ALSO: Austria sees scores of flight cancellations after airline staff contact Covid

He also assumes more flexible measures in the future. For example, public transport signs will ask for the mask mandate during morning traffic hours, but not on empty evening trains.

His goal, the minister stated, was to find a middle ground between demanding as few restrictions as possible and exercising caution.

Covid-19 stats

Austria on Wednesday reported 12,509 new coronavirus infections after 169,948 PCR tests, according to the Health Ministry.

There were 856 people in hospitals with Covid-19 and 47 in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,779 people have died from the disease.

The country has just over 61 percent of its population with a valid vaccination pass.