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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of today’s news on Wednesday

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

A statue of an Austrian composer Johann Strauss is seen in the late afternoon light at the crowded Stadtpark (City park) in Austria's capital of Vienna on March 22, 2022.
Another gorgeous sunny day is on the way, but some are concerned about the lack of rain this month in Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

No new Covid-19 rules today

New Covid-19 pandemic rules were supposed to come into force this morning (Wednesday), but the new regulations were not announced. They should now be published on Thursday. According to drafts seen by newspapers such as Der Standard, the new rules will mean from March 24th, there will once again be a requirement to wear an FFP2 mask when indoors in a public space in Austria if other protective measures are not available. 

FFP2 mask rules should also apply to meetings of 25 people or more, unless everyone has proof of 3G. These rules will only apply until April 2nd. 

Health care workers may also only have to quarantine for five days even if they are still infectious, or even work if they are symptom-free. This measure has been criticised by both Vienna’s City Councillor for Health Peter Hacker and the Linz Mayor Klaus Luger. Both are members of the SPÖ opposition party. The Austrian Health and Nursing Association (ÖGKV) has also criticised the plan, saying healthcare workers deserve time off to recover from the disease.

Austria’s Covid-19 situation is still concerning, with 34,340 new infections recorded on Tuesday, 55 new deaths, and hospitals treating a total of 3,279 Covid-19 patients, although only 225 are being cared for in ICUs. At the same time the health sector is struggling with staff shortages.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new covid rules

Council to vote on energy bonus bill

Austria’s National Council will meet today to decide on how to tackle inflation and vote on the proposed energy bonus, which will mean 150 euros will be deducted from the next electricity bill. However, high earning households will not see any reductions. The council will also discuss putting protection zones around hospitals. 

READ MORE: Austria unveils €2 billion relief package to fight rising cost of living

New emergency shelter for Ukrainian refugees in Vienna

A new emergency shelter for people arriving from Ukraine has been set up at Vienna’s Messe Wien. Up to 300 refugees are now being cared for there every night. There will also be a second registration point at the shelter, following long queues to access the registration point at the Austria Centre. In future Messe Wien could become a distribution point for Austria’s federal states for all Ukrainian refugees coming into Austria, broadcaster ORF reports. 

READ MORE:

Lack of rain sparks climate fears

There has been hardly any rain in Austria for weeks, sparking fears that plants will struggle to grow unless there is rain soon. In three Austrian cities – Graz, Klagenfurt and Innsbruck – it has not rained at all this month. The Ministry of  Climate Protection tweeted  on Tuesday the weather was a result of the climate crisis and said it was time for Austria to act. 

New bike rental scheme to start in Vienna

A new bike rental system is starting in Vienna from April 1st. The WienMobil is the new rental bike system of Wiener Linien. It will replace the Gewista’s city bikes, which have been available in the city for 19 years. Parking stations in all districts are planned. The new bikes will be red and white, have seven gears and an electronic frame lock. This must be unlocked via the app when driving off and locked to end the journey. From April 1st, 1,000 WienMobil bikes will be available – initially at 60 rental stations that are currently being set up. By autumn there will be 3,000 bikes and 185 stations. Half an hour will cost 60 cents, though Wiener Linien annual ticket holders will pay 30 cents. The new rental bike system is operated by nextbike.

Construction sector struggling to source raw materials due to war in Ukraine

Austria’s construction industry is struggling to source building materials such as concrete, steel and wood, as well as insulating materials, laminated beams and plastic products, due to the war in Ukraine, broadcaster ORF reports. Since the Covid-19 pandemic there have also been problems finding enough trained staff. Neighbouring Germany has already warned it may have to stop some construction projects due to shortages in products such as nails and screws. 

New climate council will spend half a million euros on PR

A new climate council, which will meet for six weekends on  behalf of Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) will cost two million euros. Half a million will go towards PR costs, awarded to the company Lockl & Keck, headed by  Lothar Lockl, who formerly managed  the Greens campaign and represented Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen. The cost has been criticised by Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ), who say it is a “pseudo committee” costing Austrian taxpayers several hundred thousand euros,” Der Standard newspaper reports.  The newspaper also notes the committee was mainly funded by donations rather than public money.

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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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