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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Thursday

Austria's Covid cases are falling, minster makes further assurances about Russian gas supplies, and more news on Thursday.

Left-wing protesters marched against far-right groups in Vienna, Austria
Left-wing protesters marched against far-right groups in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday April 27, after the far right was blamed for attacking a refugee centre in Vienna (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

Austria’s Covid Traffic Light Commission downgrades risk level

Austria’s Covid Traffic Light Commission has downgraded all federal states to orange, which denotes “high risk”, apart from Burgenland, which remains red, the highest risk level. Infections are decreasing, but fewer tests are being carried out as well. 

The commission takes into account the number of Covid-19 cases, and also refers to data such as testing and the age and vaccination status of infected people to assess the risk level. 

Although the seven-day incidence is highest in Burgenland (745.2) and in Vienna (742.5), Vienna still has a lower risk factor than Tyrol (384.5) where far fewer tests are being carried out than in the capital.

Vorarlberg and Styria are almost in the yellow (medium risk) category, of below 50, with scores of  50.9 and 53 respectively.

Vorarlberg has also seen a dramatic drop in cases of 35 percent over the past 14 days. Broadcaster ORF reports tourists are once again bringing in new infections to Vienna, where five percent of new infections were attributed to visitors from outside the capital. 

Further reassurances by Energy Minister over Russian gas supplies to Austria

Austria’s Energy Minister  Leonore Gewessler (Greens) has made assurances that natural gas is still being supplied to Austria by Russia, after the country cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria.

Speaking to the Zib 2 programme on Wednesday evening, she said the main supply routes were operating “without restrictions”, and said there were no signs that Russia planned to stop gas to Austria. 

However, she also admitted she did not have a “crystal ball” and preparations were underway in case of the emergency scenario that gas supplies are cut.

If this were to happen, large companies would be the most affected, with households prioritised for gas.  

It could be necessary to introduce short term work once more and ​​there could be a rise in unemployment and an economic slump. Austria was already increasing its gas storage over the past few days.

The minister said Austria would start next winter with less dependence on gas than last year.

READ MORE: How Austria plans to secure enough energy for next winter

Around 64,400 refugees from Ukraine are now registered in Austria

Around 64,400 refugees from Ukraine are currently registered in Austria according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior. Austria’s refugee coordinator, Michael Takacs told the Ö1 morning journal that Austria is prepared to take in up to 200,000 people overall, but it is not possible to say at present how many refugees want to stay permanently.

He expects more Ukrainian people to come to Austria from Moldova.

Left wing protestors march in support of refugees

Left-wing protesters marched against far-right groups in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday April 27, after the members of the groups were blamed for attacking a refugee centre in Vienna.

As the Local reported on Tuesday, refugees from Ukraine were  left traumatised after around 20 masked far right extremists climbed onto the roof of the Ute-Bock-Hause accommodation block in Vienna’s Favoriten on Saturday morning and let off fireworks, before unfurling a large banner.

Austria’s pandemic laws extended until mid 2023

Austria’s Covid Measures Act has been extended until the middle of 2023, rather than expiring at the end of June. The extension was decided on Wednesday in the National Council – with only the opposition parties FPÖ and NEOS opposing the measure.

The law provides the legal basis for the restriction of gatherings or exit regulations and allows penalties to be enforced over violations of rules in order to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

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

READ ALSO: Austria extends Covid regulations as experts warn of autumn resurgence

Legislation passed to stop illegal car tuning 

Legislation to stop people illegally modifying their cars was also passed. The amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act (KFG) means you can be fined up to 300 euros for manipulating your car engine to make explosive noises, and for driving styles such as rapid acceleration, abrupt braking and letting the vehicle rotate around its own axis when stationary, the Krone newspaper reports.

Germany has extended border controls with Austria due to migration concerns

The German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has extended border controls at the border with Austria for a further six months. A letter to the EU Commission confirming this was sent on April 14, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior told the German Press Agency on Wednesday.

The reason given was “migration events”. Although there are in theory no border controls within states which make up the Schengen zone, Germany has been monitoring the border with Austria since autumn 2015, when tens of thousands of refugees and other migrants made their way from Greece to Western Europe via the Balkan route.

As the Local reported on Wednesday, the ECJ recently ruled the border controls in Austria were no longer legal, although Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) said Austria would continue to rely on border controls “if necessary”. 

READ MORE: Austrian border controls ruled illegal

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Thursday

Austrian government makes u-turn on masks in schools as Covid cases fall and more news on Thursday.

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Thursday

Masks to be dropped in school 

The Minister of Education Martin Polaschek (ÖVP) confirmed on Wednesday that the mask requirement in schools should be lifted from Monday, including in the school corridors and for everyone who works or attends Austria’s schools. This also applies to unvaccinated teaching staff, who previously had to wear a mask throughout the school. However, if there are positive cases or vulnerable people in the classroom, the mask requirement can be reintroduced. Der Standard newspaper comments that the Ministry of Education said just three days ago that mask rules requiring school children to wear masks outside the classroom would not be changed in schools for the time being. However, Polaschek argues the falling numbers of cases of Covid-19 mean that masks no longer need to be worn. 

Covid traffic light commission classifies most Austrian states as lower risk

Falling Covid-19 cases means that most states in Austria have been downgraded from the highest risk level (red), to the lower risk orange. Only the state of Burgenland is still red according to Austria’s Covid traffic light commission. Infections are declining in all federal states. Salzburg is the closest to turning yellow – or being designated as medium risk. 

There has also been a sharp drop in testing, down to 16,401 tests per 100,000 inhabitants. A week ago this figure was almost 38,400 and two weeks ago 51,200. A third of previous tests are being carried out in Vienna since the amount of free testing was reduced. In Tyrol there is very little testing, with just 3,800 tests carried out per 100,000 inhabitants.

FPÖ leader avoids fine over breaking mask and distance rules at demo

The chairman of Austria’s far right FPÖ party,  Herbert Kickl, has managed to overturn an 231 euro administrative fine he was given after taking part in an anti-coronavirus measures demonstration on March 6th, 2021 in Vienna. Kickl argued he was unable to keep a two metre distance from others due to police cordons and had only removed his FFP2 mask to drink some water. In addition the police officer who reported the crime could not remember the exact time of the crime, as the report was written about five hours after the observation. Only “1010, Burgring” was noted as the “crime scene”, broadcaster ORF reports.The Vienna Administrative Court upheld the complaint by the party leader, and the proceedings were discontinued.

States in Austria want to tax empty homes

The city of Vienna has asked the federal government to give it powers to tax the owners of apartments which are lying empty. According to the Wiener Zeitung, thousands of apartments in Vienna are empty, although rents are rising. The City of Vienna sent a letter to the responsible ministries in November 2020 proposing a vacancy tax to encourage people to rent out their empty apartments. However, the federal government rejected this idea at the beginning of the week. The Ministry of Finance said it was difficult to tell if an apartment was inhabited and said the measure could lead to more short-term leases or the extra tax being passed onto tenants. 

Tyrol is also considering a draft law that would allow municipalities to levy a tax on unused apartments. Salzburg is also considering an empty apartment tax, and on April 26th Styria is set to pass a law which allows the SPÖ-ÖVP state government to tax second homes and empty apartments.

Austria has stopped importing oil from Russia

Although it continues to be heavily reliant on Russian gas, Austria has stopped importing oil from Russia. According to data from Statistics Austria and the Association of the Mineral Oil Industry, only 7.8 percent or 596,000 tons of Austrian oil imports came from Russia in 2021. “The purchase of oil from Russia was always very low, at the beginning of the war we replaced it with other oil from the market,” said an OMV spokesman, the Krone newspaper reports.

Austria prepares for an estimated 200,000 refugees

Austria’s refugee coordinator Michael Takács has said he expects a total of 200,000 displaced people to come to Austria due to the new Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. Preparations are underway for this many people, he said in a press conference on Wednesday evening after a working visit to Upper Austria. So far, 230,000 of the 277,000 Ukrainians who have entered the country have traveled on, mainly to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany.

Free festival in Vienna returns this summer

Vienna’s free Danube Island Festival is planned to go ahead from June 24th to 26th, just like in pre-pandemic times. Providing the Covid situation allows, the event will take place with all stages and free entry. There should be no checks on vaccination status or mask requirements according to the Vienna SPÖ party, which organises the festival. The theme this year will be #DreamTeamWIEN and there will be a new “Heurigen and Storytelling Island”. In addition to local acts, there will also be international performers, with a K-Pop evening with participants from South Korea. More details will be released later.

Deer have become fat and unhealthy from overfeeding

Visitors have been asked to stop feeding deer living on Linz’s Pöstlingberg after the four adults and three young animals were found to be suffering from obesity and high blood sugar. Walkers and visitors kept throwing apples, bread or corn on the cob into the deer’s enclosure, the Krone newspaper reports.

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