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COVID-19 RULES

Covid-19: No change for mask rules in schools

The Federal Government has confirmed there will be no changes to the current mask rules in schools - for now.

Covid-19: No change for mask rules in schools
The Federal Government has announced there will be no changes to Austria's current FFP2 mask rules for schools. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria’s current FFP2 mask rules for schools will remain unchanged for now, despite calls from some politicians to tighten the mandate.

This was confirmed on Thursday by Minister of Education Martin Polaschek of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) at a press conference in Vienna.

The current rules require students to wear an FFP2 mask when moving around the school but not while sitting in a class. It is similar to the rule applied to other public indoor spaces and gastronomy.

READ MORE: UPDATED: Austria brings back mandatory FFP2 masks indoors as Covid cases soar

Speaking about the rule for schools, Polaschek said: “We will definitely keep this rule until the Easter holidays.”

Governor of Upper Austria Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP), recently called for the mask rule in schools to be tightened due to rising Covid-19 case numbers in schools across the country.

In addition to the mask rule, pupils and teachers are also required to test for Covid-19 three times a week.

What are Austria’s current Covid measures? 

From a nationwide vaccine mandate for every citizen earlier in the year which was subsequently scrapped, Austria has gradually relaxed Covid measures in recent weeks. 

However, the ad hoc manner in which this has taken place, along with the different rules in place in different states, has made this difficult to follow. 

The so-called spring awakening, when most restrictions were lifted, happened on 5th March, with swarms of people visiting nightclubs and parties all over the alpine country.

The midnight curfew for restaurants was also lifted as nightclubs, and apres-ski venues were allowed to reopen. 

The federal government’s are the minimum standard for rules and regulations, and states in Austria are free to adopt stricter measures.

This is the case of Vienna, as often happened during the pandemic, there is a separate set of rules.

Vienna is keeping the 2G rule to gastronomy, though the mask requirement is waived for staff and customers. There is no more curfew, and night gastronomy is allowed to open, but also with a 2G rule.

More information on the Covid measures in place can be found in the following explainer. 

EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s current Covid rules?

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COVID-19 ALERT

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.

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