Can I still use my saved Covid tests in Austria from April?

Austria is limiting the number of free tests to five PCR and five antigen per month. However, many people still have unused 'Alles gurgelt' boxes at home. Can they be used?

coronavirus tests alles gurgelt austria
Corona tests in Austria will be limited as of April 1st, but residents can still use some of their 'old' tests (Photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

From April 1st, residents in Austria will be entitled to five PCR and five antigen tests per month – a change from the unlimited free tests that have been currently available to the population.

The policy change had been hinted at for a few weeks before it was finally announced on March 15th, giving people plenty of time to “stash” some PCR boxes at home. But can they still be used?

This Thursday, a day before the new rules start, the federal government has published the ordinance regulating the new test strategy and clarifying that people with “saved up” tests at home can still use them – but with limitations.

Stashed tests

If you have already stored tests, you can still use them at least until the end of April. However, there are some restrictions.

In addition to the five free PCR tests every resident will be entitled to monthly, five other tests obtained previously can be evaluated free of charge. This comes to a total of ten free PCR tests in April.

The stored tests can also be used after that following the five a month limit, saving trips to pick-up stations.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What to do if you test positive in Austria

This is especially relevant for the many residents who have boxes – sometimes dozens – of Alles gurgelt PCR tests at home.

The tests, which were first offered in Vienna and expanded to other states, can be carried out at home. The boxes are then dropped off in one of the hundreds of drug stores and supermarkets functioning as collection points.

These free and easy PCR tests were a staple of the capital’s extensive testing policy. Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig on several occasions defended the need for tests and recently confirmed that the city would continue with the Alles gurgelt offers, though limited as funding comes from the federal government.

Exceptions to the limitations

There are several exceptions to the five PCR and five antigen tests a month limitations.

In hospitals, nursing homes and kindergartens, unlimited free testing can continue. Free testing will also remain for residents, staff and visitors at care facilities and health resorts.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are Austria’s current Covid rules?

People who are 24-hour carers or assistants to disabled people are also exempt from the restriction, as are employees of rescue services.

Additionally, people with symptoms of Covid can still get tested for free without it counting to their five-limit cap. Each state will regulate where and how testing will take place, with possibilities including home PCR tests, calling the 1450 health line, or going to an official testing facility.

Useful vocabulary

Test-Angebot – testing offer
Ausnahmen – exceptions
Verordnung – decree
Einschränkungen – limitations
Pflegeeinrichtungen – nursing homes

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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.