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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

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

Tourists protect themselves from the rain with an umbrella as they visit the old town .
April showers this morning in Austria. (Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)

Putin threatens to turn off the gas

Vladimir Putin has threatened to cut off Western nations from Russia’s natural gas supplies. This could affect energy prices in Austria, which imports 80 percent of its gas from Russia.

Putin has signed a decree that foreign countries they must start paying for gas in Russian roubles or it will halt supplies. The new rules start on Friday April 1st. 

The German government said on Wednesday that Putin had assured German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a telephone call “that nothing would change for European contractual partners”. The payments would continue to be made exclusively in euros and, as usual, would be transferred to Gazprombank, which is currently not affected by sanctions. The bank would then convert the money into roubles.

However, speaking on the broadcaster ORF’s ZIB2 programme, head of the Economic Research Institute (WIFO), Gabriel Felbermayr, did not rule out the possibility that Putin could turn off the gas tap at any time. He said this would plunge Germany and Austria into recession.

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer tweeted late on Thursday “Germany and Austria stand side by side: We will keep calm and not relax the sanctions against Russia.”

READ MORE: 

Epidemiologist says everyone will need second booster by autumn

The epidemiologist Gerarld Garthlehner has said that everyone in Austria should get a second booster Covid-19 jab before the autumn, with vulnerable individuals getting boosted even earlier.

“We should all get the second booster sometime before autumn,” he told broadcaster ORF. He also said the government’s new scaled down testing regime was enough to keep people safe.

The modelling expert Peter Klimek also told  ORF reducing testing in Austria was epidemiologically justified due to the waning omicron wave. However, he expects a new wave of infections at least by autumn, if a new variant does not emerge before then.

Vienna’s new bike share scheme WienMobil Rad starts today.

The new rental bike system WienMobil Rad will be rolled out in Vienna on Friday. This will be the successor to the previous city bikes scheme. The new rental bikes will be made available by Wiener Linien. In future there will be bike rentals available to all districts.

The new bike sharing scheme will cost Vienna 2.3 million euros annually, with the contract running until 2031.

There are also one-off construction costs of 7.5 million euros, with 200 stations planned by autumn. In addition to the districts that already have Citybike stations, there will be twelve stations in Simmering, 16 in Floridsdorf, 21 in Donaustadt and seven in Liesing.

The standard rental rate is 60 cents for 30 minutes, and the bikes can be unlocked with a QR code and an app or a phone call. 

READ MORE: Everything that changes in Austria in April 2022

Test reductions are ‘bad April Fool’s joke’ according to Krone tabloid

The Kronen Zeitung newspaper has said the new reductions in tests planned by Austria’s Federal Government are like a “bad April Fool’s joke”, pointing out unlimited tests are available if you are prepared to say your throat is sore or you want to see your grandparents.

It writes: “In some federal states you have to lie to those responsible for possible symptoms in the face, in others a wrong tick online is enough for the right result – the next free test!”

The newspaper points out there are so many exceptions and loopholes in the changes to testing, anyone who wants extra tests will be able to get them. Anyone who has hoarded tests at home can carry out a total of ten PCR tests in April, and those living in Vienna just have to click a box of one of the “exceptions” to receive a sixth gargle test in the Bipa store.

In addition, testing centres (Teststraßen (test streets), Gurgelboxen (Gurgle boxes) and Schnupfen-Checkboxen (sniffle check boxes) will remain open in the capital, and pharmacies in Vienna will continue to carry out tests. 

However, a government spokesman told the newspaper that people could end up paying for tests if they didn’t have a plausible reason why they needed one.

READ MORE: I’ve stashed away Covid tests. Can I use them from April?

Men in Austria are not taking any more paternity leave under new system
In 2002, a new child care allowance was introduced in Austria. replacing the earlier parental leave allowance. However, a study by the Institute for Family Research shows that it has not had the desired effect of getting more fathers to take time off to care for their young children. 

The new system intended to get 30 percent of fathers taking time off work to care for their kids. However, only 11.4 percent did this, about the same as under the old system.  

The new model, which made it possible for just the mother to receive the allowance for two years, had wide take up, showing the traditional division of  parenting roles.

However the partnership bonus, which paid out in a split of 50:50 or 60:40 between both parents, was used in only 1.3 percent of cases. The goal was three percent.

In addition, the family time bonus, known as Papamonat (Daddy month), under which men have a legal right to stay at home for a month immediately after the birth and receive a payment of 700 euros, was used much less frequently than expected.

On average, there were 6,000 cases in 2019 and 2020 instead of the expected 32,800, but measured in terms of annual births there was at least a slight increase (to 8.5 percent of births in 2020), broadcaster ORF reports.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about parental leave in Austria

Construction on Vienna’s new subways ‘not affected’ by shortage of raw materials

The lack of raw materials and the resulting increase in construction costs are causing problems for several large projects in Austria.

However, the subway construction project in Vienna has not yet been greatly affected. According to Wiener Linien, price fluctuations were priced into the 2.1 billion euro U2 extension and the new U5 line, broadcaster ORF reports.  

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Inflation at 7.2 percent, Austria tries to reduce dependence on Russian gas and more news on Thursday.

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

Inflation rose to 7.2 percent in April

Inflation in Austria has continued to accelerate. According to Statistics Austria, the inflation rate in April was 7.2 percent – ​​the last time there was such a high inflation rate was in October 1981. Expenditure on transport and housing accounted for three-fifths of inflation. Compared to the previous month of March, the price level rose by 0.4 percent. “In addition to fuel and energy products, rising food prices are currently also responsible for the rise in inflation,” said Statistics Austria Director General Tobias Thomas on Wednesday.

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Austria plans to reduce dependence on Russian gas by 10 percent

Austria is to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by ten percent (taking it to 70 percent) by connecting the Haidach gas storage facility in Salzburg to the Austrian gas network before the end of this year. This  strategic gas reserve, which previously served Bavaria in nearby Germany, is to be increased by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This will cover the gas consumption of two winter months, broadcaster ORF

The additional gas volume of the strategic reserve should come from non-Russian sources, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) has promised. 

In addition, the National Council passed a regulation on Thursday allowing the state to commission suppliers with the provision and storage of natural gas. Industrial companies that store gas are to be given collateral. They should also be able to dispose of their gas reserves themselves in the event of a crisis. Only when system stability requires it does the state access these reserves in exchange for compensation.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Labour Chamber raises concerns that a third of Viennese adults do not have Austrian citizenship

Austria’s Labour Chamber (Arbeitkammer) has pointed out many people working and living in Vienna are excluded from the democratic process, because they are not Austrian citizens. In a thread on Twitter, the organisation noted that 30 percent of Viennese people over 16 do not have Austrian citizenship, including many young people who were born in Austria. In Austria, if your parents are not Austrian, you must submit proof you have lived legally in Austria for five years and have been resident for 10 years, according to the Chamber. You must also prove that your net income (after bills, housing costs and loan repayments) is above €1,030.49. The chamber points out only a third of Austrians themselves meet these stringent requirements. 

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Warnings over large numbers of train passengers on upcoming public holidays 

Austria’s train company ÖBB is warning “very large number of passengers” are expected to use the railways around the forthcoming holidays of Ascension Day, Pentecost and Corpus Christi. It says it has expanded its capacities as much as possible and additional staff have been deployed, but warns if too many passengers board trains this could lead to the train journey being interrupted “for safety reasons” in “exceptional cases” and passengers without a seat or reservation having to leave the train, according to ÖBB. ORF reports the company recommends making a reservation before travel, especially on the most popular connections – even if you have a climate ticket which offers unlimited annual train travel in Austria. 

Bavaria clashes with Tyrol

Bavaria’s Transport Minister Christian Bernreiter (CSU) has called on EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to initiate infringement proceedings against the Republic of Austria. He claims checks made by Austria in Tyrol before trucks can use the Brenner Pass and the practice of ​​Blockabfertigung (block handling) trucks are causing systematic traffic problems in Bavaria and called for talks in Brussels. Tyrol’s governor Günther Platter (ÖVP) said this demand was “insane”.

Broadcaster ORF reports that there are fears that Munich will also be affected by the same issues as the state of Salzburg is now also examining similar solutions at the Walserberg border crossing. Bernreiter wrote to the President of the Commission to say a solution must finally be found for Alpine transit traffic,: “Residents and truck drivers have been suffering from traffic congestion for far too long.” The problem must be “solved constructively and together”.

Calls to sanction Austria’s former foreign minister who danced with Putin at her wedding

German MEPs have called on the EU Council to sanction Austria’s former foreign minister Karin Kneissl (FPÖ), who notoriously danced with Vladimir Putin at her wedding in 2018. Putin also gave her sapphire earrings worth €50,000 as a wedding gift. The Austrian journalist Armin Wolf told the ZIB programme sanctions could be put in place today (Thursday).

Vienna launched campaign against flushing rubbish down the toilet 

Vienna has launched a campaign to stop people throwing cooking oil and wet wipes down the toilet, after revealing around 20 tonnes of “solids” are removed by the municipal sewage treatment plant in Simmering..

A website provides information about the correct disposal methods for all types of waste. With a “rinse”, users can test their knowledge of what is allowed in the toilet and what is not. A song, performed by five “stool gang” characters, tackles the subject in an easily accessible way and will be used on the radio and in social networks. It will also be shown on adverts in restaurant toilets.  Pouring cooking oil down the sink leads to rats and fatbergs, the city pointed out.

Restaurants and Inns in Vienna may have to put their prices up by up to 20 percent

People wishing to go to Vienna’s inns and restaurants will face bills which are up to 20 percent higher by the end of the year due to increased energy and food prices, the  Vienna Chamber of Commerce has said. Peter Dobcak, chairman of the specialist group for gastronomy in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce told Wien Heute (Vienna Today) on Wednesday that the industry was “torn” because it wanted to reduce the burden on people suffering due to high energy prices, but at the same time, had to keep businesses afloat.

The restaurateur Hans Stöckl, who runs the Gasthaus Nestroy in the second district, said he was struggling with the skyrocketing electricity prices, telling ORF that each months he faced additional costs of up to 900 euros due to this factor alone. Some foods such as cooking oil, flour, eggs and dairy products, have also tripled in price.

There are also concerns that people will stop going out to eat due to the cost of living crisis.

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