Reader question: When is Austria dropping the mask mandate?

Austrians still need to wear an FFP2 mask when going to most public indoor places, like bars and museums. When will the rules be eased?

Children wearing masks
Austria may drop its mask mandate after Easter if numbers keep dropping (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

As the numbers of new infections slowly fall in Austria, requests are growing for the alpine country to relax the few Covid rules still in place, mainly the FFP2 mask mandate.

After a few weeks of “freedom”, when the country had removed almost all Covid restrictions, the Federal Government brought back mandatory FFP2 masks indoors as cases soared.

Masks are currently mandatory for all closed indoor public spaces, means of transport, throughout the trade, for physical services, in gastronomy (but not while sitting down), in hotels, sports facilities, cultural and leisure facilities, at places of work, in retirement and nursing homes and in hospitals.

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

When entering a workplace, a mask must be worn if the risk of catching Covid-19 is not minimised by other protective measures.

The mask mandate does not apply to people that work alone. Still, it does apply to indoor meetings of more than 100 people unless everyone can provide proof of 3G – the same rules for nightclubs.

When will Austria drop these rules?

As the number of new cases drops significantly in Austria, there have been requests to ease the restrictions, especially with summer getting closer.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer told Austrian media that removing the mask mandate would be “justifiable” if numbers kept dropping. However, she did ask people to take personal responsibility once this happens.

The regulation to wear masks indoors is in place until April 16th, meaning that Austria could see the end of mandatory masks after Easter.

The rules could be extended or replaced by a less strict set, such as regulation mandating the use of masks in fewer places or allowing medical masks rather than only the FFP2 variety. 

READ ALSO: Travel: What are Austria’s current entry and Covid rules?

What are the rules in other countries?

The mask mandate has been significantly eased in many European countries. In neighbouring Germany, for example, a nationwide mask requirement only applies in public transport, hospitals or nursing homes.

In Switzerland, the last nationwide COVID measures were lifted earlier this month. However, different regulations may apply in individual cantons. Croatia has also removed most Covid restrictions, including mask mandates, just ahead of Easter.

READ ALSO: Five spring destinations from Austria – and the Covid rules in place

Italy has a mask requirement for most indoor places – outside in crowded areas, though rules are expected to be eased in early May.

Current Covid numbers

This Friday, 8, Austria recorded 14,085 new infections in 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. There are 2,598 people hospitalised with Covid, 151 fewer than the day before.

Just over 200 people are currently in intensive care units because of the disease, which has claimed 16,168 lives in Austria so far.

Only 68.89 percent of the country has a valid vaccine certificate, with numbers falling as people fail to go for their booster shots before the expiration of the primary immunisation.

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EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

Austrian trains have been overly crowded recently, with some people who had valid tickets having to be removed for "safety reasons". Here's how to make sure you get to your destination.

EXPLAINED: How to not be 'bumped' from an overcrowded Austrian train

Train travel is a safe and relatively comfortable way to get around Austria, but there is still much to do to make these journeys better for travellers, especially for commuters.

In Austria, a combination of high fuel prices, the adoption of the subsidised Klimaticket, and Vienna’s new short-term parking system, combined with other factors including a green surge and nice weather, has led to an increase in the search for train travel.

The operator ÖBB expects an even higher surge in the next few days, as warm weather meets holidays in Austria. This has led to several journeys being overcrowded, with people travelling standing up or being removed from trains when they reach capacity and the number of people compromises safety.

READ ALSO: Half-price Europe train tickets on offer in Interrail flash sale

“Safety is the top priority. If the train is too full to be guided safely, passengers must be asked to get off. If they don’t do it voluntarily, we have no choice but to get the police. This happens very rarely,” Bernhard Rieder from ÖBB told broadcaster ORF during an Ö1 interview.

Why are trains overcrowded?

There are several reasons for the surge in train travel, but they boil down to two things: rising costs for other means of transportation and environmental worries.

With galloping inflation, Austrians have seen prices of fuel climbing, and as the war in Ukraine continues, there is no likelihood of lower petrol prices any time soon.

At the same time, since March, Vienna (the destination for many domestic tourists and commuters) has instituted a new short-term parking system, basically removing free parking in the streets of the capital.

Driving has become more expensive when everything else seems to be costly, and many Austrians turn to train travel. Particularly for those who are holders of the Klimaticket, a yearly subsidised card that allows for unlimited travel for just over €1,000 – early buyers could get a hold of the ticket for under €900.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

The ticket allows travellers to “hop on and hop off” as they wish, making occupancy more unpredictable. However, it is possible to reserve seats even if you have them, and there are low-budget bundles for commuters.

The Klimaticket was created in an effort with the Environmental Ministry, looking to increase the use of greener transport alternatives in Austria.

The environmental concern is also one of the reasons why train travel is on the rise globally – travelling by train is also more convenient in many cases, with comfortable seats, free wifi, a dining area and the fact that you can start and end your journey in central stations instead of far-away airports.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Why won’t ÖBB only sell as many tickets as there are train seats?

A reasonable question, but that is not possible with the way train journeys operate in Austria – and in most countries.

Some tickets are “open” and flexible, meaning that people can board any train from a specific time. These are particularly useful for commuters who might be late leaving work, for example.

Additionally, holders of the Klimaticket and other regional yearly offers don’t need to buy tickets. They only need to show their Klimaticket card with an ID once checked.

READ ALSO: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

What is ÖBB doing to avoid overcrowding?

After the several incidents of overcrowding when people even had to leave their trains despite having valid tickets, ÖBB announced it would bring additional trains for the peak season around the holidays (May 26th, June 5th and 6th and June 16th), increasing the number of seats by “thousands”, according to a press statement.

What can I do to guarantee my journey?

Despite the increase in offer, the operator still warns that “on certain trains, demand can still exceed capacity”.

The best way to try and guarantee your journey, according to ÖBB, is by reserving a seat.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

“A seat reservation is the best way to use the most popular train connections. Starting at €3, you can reserve a seat in ÖBB trains in Austria”.

Reservations are available online at the ÖBB app, at the ÖBB ticket counter, and at the ÖBB customer service at 05-1717.