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Seven ways the Covid-19 pandemic has changed Austria

Almost everyone has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, but how has it affected Austria as a country? Here are seven ways the pandemic has changed Austria.

Seven ways the Covid-19 pandemic has changed Austria
The Covid-19 pandemic led to protests and a rise in anti-vaccination sentiment in Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The Covid-19 pandemic has been more than a global health crisis – it has disrupted international supply chains, brought about changes in the way we work and socialise, and led to an increase in the cost of living.

But how has it all impacted Austria in particular?

The Local took a look at the major changes from the past two years and how they have influenced the Alpine Republic.

Digital payments are more popular

Austria’s love for cold, hard cash can be summed up in the saying, “Nur Bares ist Wahres” (only cash is true). 

But according to Petia Niederländer, Director of the Department for Payment Transactions, Risk Monitoring and Financial Education at the Austrian National Bank, the pandemic has massively accelerated the trend towards card payments.

FOR MEMBERS: Why is cash so important to Austrians?

Cash is still the preferred payment method accounting for 66 percent of all transactions in Austria, but the overall use of cash has dropped by 13 percent since 2019 as a result of hygiene regulations in shops.

Don’t expect Austrians to completely ditch cash any time soon though.

As Niederländer told the WKÖ: “More than two thirds cannot imagine a world without cash.”

Kissing is no longer the standard greeting

In pre-pandemic times, a common greeting between men and women in a non-professional setting was two kisses (one for each cheek). Although in reality they were more like air kisses.

Since Covid-19 though, kissing has been relegated to a fist pump or simply a smile due to social distancing and fears of transmitting, or passing on, the virus.

For some people (especially those from countries where kissing is not common), it’s a welcome change and a relief from awkward moments. But others might miss the continental flair of kissing.

FOR MEMBERS: Austrian clichés: How true are these ten stereotypes?

Home ownership has increased

In the past two years, Austrians have invested lots of money in residential property leading to a real estate boom across the country.

In 2021, the number of entries in the land register (a public register of property ownership) rose by 12 percent to 163,266, according to figures by Remax

The overall value of property transactions in Austria also increased from €35.15 billion in 2020 to €43.18 billion in 2021. Vienna alone accounted for property sales worth €12.7 billion last year.

This has led to rising prices and more Austrians being priced out of the property market, especially in high-demand tourist areas like Tyrol, as reported by The Local.

Stress and scandals have increased political instability

Before the pandemic, politics in Austria had already been rocked by the Ibiza scandal (find out more here), but it seems that was just the start of a tumultuous few years for the federal government.

At the time of the first lockdown in March 2020, former political wonderkid Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) was Austria’s Federal Chancellor. Kurz then stepped down from the role in October 2021 following allegations of corruption before completely resigning from politics. 

READ MORE: Austria names its sixth Chancellor in five years

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) then became interim Chancellor in October before being replaced by Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) in December. Nehammer became Austria’s third Chancellor in as many months, and the sixth in five years.

In the meantime, Johannes Rauch of the Greens Party (Greens) recently became Austria’s third Health Minister since 2020 after Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) and Rudolph Anschober (Greens) both quit after several months citing the stresses of the job.

As a result, public satisfaction with the ruling coalition government of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Greens has dropped. 

According to a September 2021 Statista survey, just 45 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the government, compared to 64 percent in winter 2020/2021.

Vaccine scepticism is widespread

The roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination in early 2021 lowered anxiety levels for many people in Austria, especially as many restrictions ended in the spring. But it also led to a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment, particularly after plans for mandatory vaccinations were announced.

By late 2021, Vienna became the stage for weekly protests against the vaccine and other Covid-19 restrictions. It even led to then-Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg blaming the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) for fuelling vaccine scepticism

The planned mandatory vaccination order has now been put on hold, but the episode has led to a growing distrust of government and authority figures in Austria.

Working from home is now acceptable

Before the pandemic, working from home was not common in Austria. 

But after several lockdowns and the ongoing risks associated with Covid-19, the home office has become a central part of working life for many people.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Austria’s new working from home rules

The rise in working from home has even led to new laws and tax breaks, such as benefits up to €600 to cover heating costs, digital equipment (laptops, mobile phones, wifi) and office furniture. Insurance coverage has also extended to the home office. 

The new tax regulations are scheduled to be reviewed in 2023, although they are expected to remain in place after the pandemic.

Cost of living is more expensive

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns led to supply chain bottlenecks around the world in 2020. The result was rising prices and an increase in the cost of living.

The cost of meat and fruit in Austria significantly increased in 2020 with the price of an average shopping cart almost twice as expensive as inflation. In 2020, the average rate of inflation was 1.4 percent.

READ ALSO: Six helpful tips to save money on food costs in Austria

By December 2021, inflation had jumped to 4.3 percent and has continued to rise throughout the first quarter of 2022. In February, inflation in Austria hit 5.9 percent – the highest rate since 1984 – mostly driven by rising energy prices and the financial impacts of the war in Ukraine.

At the time of writing, there was no sign of inflation slowing down soon, which means a high cost of living is set to stay in Austria for the foreseeable future.

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Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.