Austria to keep masks only in ‘essential places’ from April 16th

The "green pass" will be valid for 12 months for people who received a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Austria's Health Minister Johannes Rauch says.

Could the relaxation of Covid measures in Austria be behind the spike in infections? Photo: Christof STACHE / AFP
Austria dropped its FFP2 mask mandate - but not everywhere. Photo: Christof STACHE / AFP

Austria has announced it will drop a general mask mandate on Saturday, April 16th, but keep it for essential indoor areas such as the health sector, supermarkets, and public transport.

“Nobody wants to wear a mask during summer, but these small requirements are basic measures”, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said during a press conference on Thursday, April 14th.

Currently, Austria has an FFP2 mask mandate in all indoor areas, including trade and cultural and leisure facilities. The obligation to wear a mask in these areas will fall from this Saturday.

In retirement homes and hospitals, the 3G rule remains in place, Rauch said. Visitors will need to show proof that they are either vaccinated, recently recovered from Covid-19 or have tested negative for the virus.

All rules apply until July 8th, at least.

The easing of restrictions is only possible as the country has seen fewer new cases of Covid-19, Rauch stated. However, Austria needs to be prepared for the autumn and winter months.

READ ALSO: Vienna: How tourists, visitors (and residents) can get free Covid tests

“The best preparation and protection is the vaccination. My recommendation to all who are not yet vaccinated or are only two times vaccinated is: go protect yourselves, vaccinate”, he said.

According to the minister, the government expects a booster campaign in late August or September – to offer protection ahead of the colder months.

The federal government’s measures are the minimal national requirements, but states can adopt tougher restrictions.

So far, only the state of Vienna has announced it might take a different path, and SPÖ Mayor Michael Ludwig has scheduled a press conference for later this Thursday.

Changes do the Green Pass

Austria’s Health Minister announced changes to the validity of the Green Pass. The country will follow European Union’s directives, and the booster shot should be valid for 12 months, he said.

The Pass will be valid for six months for double vaccinated or recovered people.

READ ALSO: Why are the numbers of fully-vaccinated people going down in Austria?

Rauch reiterated that the national immunisation board recommends the fourth vaccination only for risk groups, who should receive a fourth dose from four to six months after the third one.

There is no general recommendation for the second booster. However, people can still decide with their doctors whether they want to take it or not.

Vienna drops masks and 2G requirements

Austria’s capital Vienna is removing its main Covid restriction from Saturday, April 16th, meaning people will no longer need to present proof that they are vaccinated or recovered from the disease (2G rule) to enter bars and restaurants.

“We have decided to go along with the federal steps in a broad sense”, city councillor for Health Peter Hacker said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

As in the rest of the country, FFP2 masks are still mandatory in “essential” indoor public areas, including supermarkets and public transport, Hacker said. However, they are no longer required for sports, culture, and other indoor places.

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EXPLAINED: How Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

The much-debated policy sparked controversy since before it was approved in February, meaning that May could be a definitive month in the country.

EXPLAINED: How Austria's compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

Austria’s Federal Government has a ticking time bomb on its hands: an ordinance that suspended its vaccine mandate law is set to expire by the end of May, which means that the controversial mandatory vaccination would be again in place as early as June 1st.

In order to keep that from happening, Austria’s Health Ministry needs to extend the current regulation or create a new one.

If it doesn’t, the Covid-19 mandatory vaccination law would automatically be back in June.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s plans to bring back the vaccine mandate?

Since, by June, the vaccine mandate stated that non-vaccinated would start getting fines, the resumption of the law would mean that, from next month, those who are not vaccinated could be fined in routine checks, such as traffic checks.

The ins and outs of the vaccine mandate

The law was first introduced in February, even though the technical requirements for it to be enacted were not in place. The first stage of it was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining about vaccines and about the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if they were not vaccinated, was set to start in mid-March. Before a single person was fined, though, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) suspended the law with an ordinance.

The law was suspended for a variety of reasons, primarily due to the relatively high vaccination coverage the country had already received, along with the lower virulence of the Omicron variant. 

READ ALSO: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

To create a new regulation or extend the existing one stopping people from being fined, Rauch must await the report of the vaccination commission, which should be ready in May, according to the Ministry.

The coronavirus commission will assess whether the Vaccination Act is suitable and useful from a medical and legal point of view. A previous report said there were arguments for and against mandatory vaccination for those who were completely unvaccinated.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

Der Standard reports there is little political support for compulsory vaccination and says there are still technical problems regarding automated fines. However, according to the Ministry of Health, the infrastructure should be completed in June.