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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

Carinthia at sunset
It's going to be sunny this weekend. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Members of Austria’s national Covid-19 crisis coordination team may resign later

Some members of Austria’s national Covid-19 crisis coordination team (GECKO) may resign later on Friday due to anger over the government’s decisions to go ahead with opening steps on March 5th, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. It quotes molecular biologist Andreas Bergthaler saying: “Some people are feeling high levels of resentment at  Gecko.”

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

Vienna puts stricter restrictions in place for hospitals

As The Local reported on Thursday, Vienna has announced stricter measures in response to high numbers of infections in the Covid-19 pandemic. Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) said on Thursday that the nation’s capital will continue to take a different path to the federal government. 

Measures will not be relaxed, while several rules in hospitals and nursing homes will be tightened. 

“The pandemic has not been mastered,” Ludwig said at a press conference

READ MORE: 

Tyrol looking for Ukrainian speaking teachers

Tyrol is urgently looking for teachers who speak Ukrainian due to a sudden influx of school age refugees into the region. Russian-speaking teachers would only be used in emergencies, the state said. Three weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, 1,500 schoolchildren who fled Ukraine are being educated in Austria, broadcaster ORF reports. There are 800 in Vienna alone. Teachers are already facing challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: How Austria and Austrians are helping Ukrainian refugees

Operations cancelled in Salzburg

Due to many staff being in quarantine, the Tauern Clinic and the Schwarzach Hospital in Salzburg have to postpone half of all of their planned operations, broadcaster ORF reports. Beds have to be kept free for emergencies, for example people injured in skiing incidents. 

READ MORE: Austria among highest hospitalisation rates in Europe

Cigarettes to get more expensive in Austria

Cigarettes will become more expensive in Austria in April. One reason will be an increase in tobacco tax on April 1st. Broadcaster ORF reports the tobacco industry experienced higher sales during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the industry is expecting a decline in sales this year. The end of travel restrictions also means people can more easily source cigarettes from other countries, avoiding tax. A spokesman forPhilip Morris confirmed there would be a price increase in an interview with Radio Vienna. It is rumoured cigarettes will increase in price by 20 cents per pack.

Calls for competition authority to examine rise in petrol and diesel prices

Austria’s Transport Association or Verkehrsclub (VCÖ) is asking for the country’s Federal Competition Authority (BWB) to look into the price of Eurosuper petrol, broadcaster ORF reports. The price of Eurosuper has risen higher in Austria than in any other EU country since the end of February, the VCÖ claims, based on data from the EU Commission. There have been few changes to fuel taxation in this time. According to the VCÖ analysis, a litre of Super on March 14th cost 1.987 euros, which is 46 cents more than two weeks before the end of February. 

Austria had the second highest price increase for diesel in the EU after Germany (57 cents), with 50 cents, the VCÖ reported. The increase in diesel prices in Austria was five cents higher than in the Czech Republic and Finland, seven cents higher than in the Netherlands, eight cents higher than in Estonia, nine cents higher than in Italy and ten cents higher than in Poland and France.

UPDATED: How to save money on fuel costs in Austria

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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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