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 "paused" its FFP2 mask mandate 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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Masks against Covid and flu: What’s ahead for Austria this winter

The City of Vienna has confirmed its rule on mandatory masks in public transport stay - and Austrian experts are worried about a 'flu pandemic'. Here's what you need to know ahead of winter.

Masks against Covid and flu: What's ahead for Austria this winter

Austria’s capital Vienna has long kept a pandemic restriction that other states have already dropped: the mandatory use of FFP2 masks in public transport and stations. 

When tourists arrive in Vienna via the international airport, they often take the train or a bus to the city centre and face a strange ritual: at some point during their journey, people are asked to put on their masks – as soon as they cross the city lines, of course.

These rules are not about to change any time soon. Vienna City Health Councillor Peter Hacker (SPÖ) has confirmed to Austrian media that the mask mandate in trams, buses and metros will stay at least until January 15th. They must also be worn in public transport stations, pharmacies and all Vienna health and care institutions.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

Additionally, people who test positive for coronavirus need to wear an FFP2 mask outside their homes in all enclosed spaces and on public transport at all times. If a minimum distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained outdoors or persons from outside the household are visiting, an FFP2 mask must also be worn here. 

These rules are known as the “Verkehrsbeschränkung” in Austria and are also valid in other provinces.

Adults and children aged 14 and over must wear an FFP2 mask, but children between 6 and 14 years of age and pregnant women may wear mouth-nose protection instead of an FFP2 mask.

Flu pandemic is on its way

Austrian experts have said there would likely be an exceptionally high wave of the flu after hardly any cases were registered in the past two years, Der Standard reported.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

The measures against Covid-19 prevented infections with Sars-CoV-2 and curbed the spread of influenza and other cold viruses.

According to the Center for Virology at MedUni Vienna, only a “slight upward trend” has been observed in influenza throughout Europe so far.

In principle, the influenza vaccination protects against symptomatic infection for four months: “About 80 percent for H1 viruses, about 50 to 60 percent for H3 strains and 60 to 70 percent for B viruses,” said Monika Redlberger-Fritz, a virologist from Med-Uni Vienna.

She added: “But even with vaccine breakthroughs, you are still very well protected against complications, hospitalisations and death.”

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Austria

According to the doctor, it would be desirable for 60 to 65 percent of the population to be vaccinated against Influenza, though. How many flu vaccinations have already been administered throughout Austria is still being determined. 

Unlike the Covid-19 vaccination, the flu vaccination is not organised by the federal government but by the respective provinces, which file a report only after the flu season. A detailed list of the offers in the regions can be found on the Ministry of Social Affairs website.