Austria extends Covid regulations as experts warn of autumn resurgence

Even as most Covid restrictions have been lifted in the alpine country, the government has extended the Covid-19 Measures Act until June 2023.

People line up to be tested for Covid-19 in Austria
Austrian scientists have identified five possible scenarios for the Covid-19 pandemic in the winter. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Austria’s Covid Measures Act has been extended until the middle of 2023, rather than expiring at the end of June 22nd.

The extension was decided on Wednesday in the National Council – with only the opposition parties FPÖ and NEOS opposing the measure.

Even though the country has lifted most Covid measures, including mandatory use of FFP2 masks and even lockdowns, the law provides the legal basis for them. This means that the government will still be able to bring back measures such as restrictions on gatherings and lockdowns to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: The latest coronavirus restrictions in Austria

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said during the parliament meeting it was necessary to extend the legislation as a precautionary measure in case there was another Covid surge in the autumn.

Rauch defended adjustments to the testing and vaccination strategy and preparation with sufficient medicines for the coming months.

Even if the situation is currently “very good”, as many people have recovered, the minister pleaded for the booster vaccination in the autumn.

“The good protection provided by vaccination will decrease at a time when a wave must be expected again”, he warned.

Fears of an autumn wave

The extension comes as a preparation for a much-feared Autumn wave, with experts alerting that cases may soar again as vaccine (and infection) immunity goes down.

Austrian virologists have shared their concerns in local media and on social media.

Immunologist Andres Bergthaler from the Medical University of Vienna shared a working paper calling for readiness for the autumn and winter months.

In the paper, several Austrian researchers ask for a strategy to maintain and, if necessary, expand testing capabilities and vaccination offers.

However, they add that the vaccine mandate should only be brought back in the “most unfavourable scenario”.

Austria has suspended its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law, as reported, stating that the “less severe” Omicron wave and lowering numbers did not justify the implementation. However, the law is set to be reevaluated in May.

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

Covid numbers

On Wednesday, April 27th, Austria reported 8,239 new coronavirus infections after 240,426 PCR-Tests, according to the Health Ministry.

The country has 1,452 people hospitalised with Covid-19, 37 fewer than the day before, and 111 people were being treated in intensive care units. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Austria registered 18,100 deaths due to the disease.

Some 68 per cent of the total population have a valid vaccination certificate, and 54.6 per cent have received the third dose of the Covid vaccine.

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Reader question: Do I need to wear a mask on flights to/from Austria?

The EU has eased recommendations for face masks on flights and in airports, but member states are free to put their own rules in place.

Reader question: Do I need to wear a mask on flights to/from Austria?

Since Monday, May 16th, it is no longer mandatory to wear a medical-grade face mask on flights and at airports within the EU.

But Austria will continue with the rule for now, meaning that masks are required on flights to Austria.

The implementation of the EU recommendation is based on the national rules in individual countries. 

For flights, where a destination country has a mask rule in place, then masks must be worn. 

An Austrian Airlines spokesperson told the Kronen Zeitung: “The easing of the mask requirement is an EU recommendation that must be reflected in a national regulation in order to also apply in Austria.” 

The aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC states that if masks are mandatory on public transport at the point of departure or at the destination, then the regulation should also continue on board the aircraft.

According to current Austrian Covid-19 regulations, wearing an FFP2 mask is still required in hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport (including stops and stations), taxis, customer areas of vital trade, such as supermarkets, and administrative buildings.

READ MORE: LATEST: What are Austria’s current Covid-19 rules

In addition to Austria, masks are still compulsory in some public areas in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy – all key tourism destinations for travellers from Austria.