Vienna to drop vaccination and recovery requirements from Saturday

The capital has been alone in Austria in its 2G requirements for almost two months, but has decided to ease restrictions as numbers dropped.

Vienna to drop vaccination and recovery requirements from Saturday
People with FFP2 protective face masks wait in front of a shop in the well-known shopping street Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna on February 8, 2021. Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

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. 

The 2G rules are being dropped in all areas, including gastronomy, sports, and hospitals, the secretary said. The state capital is also following federal reopening steps and dropping the FFP2 mask requirement for non-essential retail, including shops and gyms.

FFP2 masks are still mandatory in “essential” indoor public areas, including supermarkets and public transport, Hacker said.

READ ALSO: Austria to keep masks only in ‘essential places’ from April 17th

The move goes in line with the federal government’s announcement. “Nobody wants to wear a mask during summer, but these small requirements are basic measures”, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) had said during a press conference earlier this Thursday.

The reopening measures could be announced as there has been a decline in the infection rates for ten days, Hacker said. However, the decisive factor for Vienna has always been the situation in hospitals, and “the number of new patient admissions is now declining”, the counsellor stated.

One significant difference from the federal rules remains the negative PCR test requirement for visitors in hospitals and care facilities. In the rest of the country, following 3G rules is enough, meaning that vaccinated or recovered people do not need to be tested. The staff will do PCR tests twice a week in Vienna.

The capital has also announced the rules for schools after the Easter holidays.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Masks (surgical masks are allowed) are mandatory outside the class until the eighth grade. From the ninth grade, there is a FFP2 mask requirement. The teaching staff must wear an FFP2 mask outside the class, within the class this also applies to teachers who have neither been vaccinated nor recovered.

Preparations for the cold season

The Vienna representative reiterated that the city will be prepared for autumn when infections could rise again.

“You have to assume that there will be a new load in the fall”, he said.

“Unfortunately, the vaccination disappeared from Austrians’ thoughts as the compulsory vaccination failed”, Hacker added. The councillor stated that a fourth vaccine could be necessary by then – at least for risk patients and those over 65 years of age.

The Viennese ordinance will come into force next Saturday and will be valid until the beginning of the summer holidays, Hacker announced.

Mayor Michael Ludwig was not in attendance during the press conference. He tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week and is now self-isolating at home with mild symptoms. 

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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.