Covid rules: mask requirements remain in place for Austrian schools

Despite the reopening steps over the weekend, the mask rules at schools and universities will remain mostly in place in Austria.

children wearing masks
Masks will continue to be mandatory in Austrian schools despite reopening steps (Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

When schools and university classes resume after the Easter break, students and teachers will go back to a familiar setting in more than one way. Austria has decided to keep the mask requirements in education for the time being, according to the Ministry of Education.

Students must have a surgical mask (known in Austria as MNS) outside of classrooms and group rooms in school, up to the 8th school level. From the 9th school level, there is an FFP2 mask requirement.

Vaccinated or recovered teachers wear masks throughout the school building, but not in classrooms and group rooms. Teachers who have not been vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19 have to wear masks in the classrooms.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: The latest coronavirus restrictions in Austria

Testing schemes

The frequent Covid-19 tests in schools are also changing, according to the Ministry of Education.

There is a mandatory weekly PCR test, down from the twice-a-week requirement, and antigen tests should be available in some instances, such as when there are positive cases of Covid in the class.

READ ALSO: Austria to discontinue ‘Ninja’ test booklet after Easter break

How about the universities?

Things can get more confusing in higher education since each university regulates its own corona requirements.

Most universities will keep an FFP2 mask requirement for the time being, at least in common areas, Vienna.AT reported.

Austria’s mask mandate

Last week, Austria had removed most of the coronavirus restrictions, including mandatory masks in most – but not all – indoor places.

As masks will continue to be used in schools and universities of the alpine country, they are also mandatory in enclosed spaces of hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport, taxis, and customer areas of vital trade, including supermarkets.

The mask mandate has been dropped in enclosed places like gyms, restaurants and bars, and cultural establishments, although masks are still recommended here.

At the same time, the Austrian government announced an end to the so-called 3G rule. People will no longer have to present proof that they have been vaccinated, recently recovered or tested negative to enter most places – including Viennese bars and restaurants, where the even stricter 2G rules (vaccinated or recovered) were in place.

3G rules still apply to visitors, employees, and service providers in hospitals and care homes. Some universities will also keep the rules at least until the end of the month.

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

COVID numbers keep going down

Austria has seen a substantial decline in the number of new coronavirus infections.

According to the Ministry of Health, just over 7,000 new cases were recorded on April 17th. There were 1,885 people in hospitals with Covid-19, 99 fewer than the day before, and 161 people in intensive care units.

In Austria, 16,420 people have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

The country has just under 70 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, meaning they have two doses of an approved vaccine within validity.

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Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

As Covid-19 infection numbers continue rising, Austria's government doesn't rule out a comeback of the mask requirement.

Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

Austria has seen rising Covid-19 numbers for weeks, and the country’s traffic light commission has increased the risk rating of all federal states, with none currently designated as “low risk”.

Virologists and health experts have given many explanations for rising numbers and forecast that new infections, currently at more than 12,000 a day, could reach more than 30,000 in the next few weeks.

Austria’s Covid commission said that the omicron subvariant BA.4/BA.5 is a decisive factor in the increase, as it is considered more infectious. “Additionally, an increased proportion of travel-associated cases has been observed in recent weeks”, the commission stated.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

Dorothee von Laer, a Med-Uni Innsbruck virologist, told Der Standard that the new subvariant could be responsible for a new wave as “the protection we have from BA1 infections, and from vaccinations, is not so good against BA.4/BA.5”.

“So people who were infected early on, or who are only vaccinated, have of course some protection against hospitalisation, but almost no or very little protection against infection”, she said.

Von Laer mentioned other factors that likely contributed to the increasing numbers, including the fact that people have stopped wearing masks after the requirement was dropped in most of Austria.

Are masks about to make a comeback?

When Austria’s federal government announced they would drop the Covid mask mandate, they phrased it as a “pause” to the FFP2 masks, which were still mandatory in essential trade and public transport.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said that the mask requirement will be “paused”, as the pandemic is not over yet, and that people should be prepared for a resumption of the rules after summer, as The Local reported.

BACKGROUND: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

Many experts believe FFP2 masks won’t be optional for long if numbers continue rising. Von Laer said, “we will probably have to resort to the mask again, even if the hospitals are not overcrowded because we want to protect the vulnerable people”.

The health minister had already stated that it is time people “take personal responsibility” so that they choose to wear masks in crowds or when close to vulnerable people.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

However, he recently added that if the situation “goes in the direction of overloading the health system, then, of course, I am also obliged to react”.

The minister also said he reassesses the situation every week, observing developments in other countries.

‘We will have to learn’

For Rauch, people will need to learn to live with the masks, as future waves can also be expected in the coming years. He added that we would have to learn to take personal responsibility, make self-assessments, and have solidarity.

READ ALSO: Austria sees scores of flight cancellations after airline staff contact Covid

He also assumes more flexible measures in the future. For example, public transport signs will ask for the mask mandate during morning traffic hours, but not on empty evening trains.

His goal, the minister stated, was to find a middle ground between demanding as few restrictions as possible and exercising caution.

Covid-19 stats

Austria on Wednesday reported 12,509 new coronavirus infections after 169,948 PCR tests, according to the Health Ministry.

There were 856 people in hospitals with Covid-19 and 47 in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,779 people have died from the disease.

The country has just over 61 percent of its population with a valid vaccination pass.