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

Austria rated worse on press freedom, new Omicron Covid-19 variant hits Vienna and more news from Austria on Tuesday.

People take a ride on a carousel at Vienna's famous amusement park of Prater.
Enjoy the sun today. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria slips down the rankings of countries in terms of  freedom of the press

Austria has fallen to 31st place in a ranking of countries with good press freedom by Reporters without Borders (ROG). It lost its place in the top group of countries with good press freedom in 2019 due to the “Ibiza” affair.

ROG told broadcaster ORF that Austria had been downgraded from 17th place due to attacks against journalists at demos protesting Covid-19 pandemic measures and following the disclosure of paid for positive reporting in tabloid media in the course of the ÖVP advertisement affair.

Austria is also the only EU country that still does not have a freedom of information law, communication scientist Fritz Hausjell from ROG Austria told the broadcaster.


New Omicron variant found in Vienna

The new omicron BA.4 variant is currently causing a new wave of Covid-19 in South Africa, and there are already almost 30 documented cases in Vienna.

The Kurier reports Austria is probably the first European country to have had a major transmission of BA.4.

According to the newspaper, people who are unvaccinated can easily be infected with the new variant, even if they have already had Omicron.

However, the antibody resistance is much better for people who have had a previous infection according to data from the South African scientist Alex Sigal. The World Health Organisation are said to be monitoring the new variant. 

Experts disagree over fourth jab

Experts are not in agreement over who needs a fourth vaccination, and if it should be given at all. At present, the city of Vienna recommends the fourth booster to all high-risk patients of all ages, as well as to anyone over the age of 65. This should be given four months after the third booster. 

However, Herwig Kollaritsch, a member of the National Vaccination Committee, pointed out in Vienna Today that if he has a fourth vaccination at the beginning of May, he will probably need a fifth vaccination in October, and asked people to consider if this made sense for them. 

However, Vienna’s city councillor for health, Peter Hacker (SPÖ) says there is no problem with having against a fifth vaccination when the autumn wave comes, broadcaster ORF reports.

Austria makes visit to Malta to talk about neutrality

The EU Austrian Minister Karoline Edstadtler (ÖVP) visited Malta on Monday to discuss how neutral states should proceed now countries such as Finland and Sweden make efforts to join NATO.

If both countries abandon their neutrality, only Austria, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta will be the only remaining neutral states within the EU. The Krone newspaper also reports there were discussions about how to manage migration and large numbers of refugees.

EXPLAINED: The history behind Austria’s neutrality

Austria prepared to support EU embargo on Russian oil

As the Local reported on Monday, Austria’s Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler has told reporters that the country is prepared to support a European Commission decision on further sanctions, including an embargo of Russian oil.

However, she added that an essential requirement for such a measure is that European countries be able to be united in the embargo. Austria stopped processing Russian oil in March, the minister pointed out. 

READ MORE: Austria throws support behind embargo of Russian oil

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For members


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

Austria needs to 'wake up' in terms of neutrality, kindergarten headscarf ban overturned and more news on Friday.

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

Former foreign minister says Austria needs to examine its security policy 

The former Austrian ÖVP Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik has given a speech calling for Austria to look again at its security policy in the light of the debate over neutrality. “Austrian security policy has been dormant for almost a quarter of a century. We cannot afford to sleep for decades,” said Plassnik, according to broadcaster ORF, speaking at the Medienzentrum Ausseerland conference in Grundlsee organized by the Association of Foreign Press.

She said it was time for an update of the security policy, which is now ten years old, and to carry out a “careful, impartial and EU-compliant current risk analysis”. Plassnik suggested an “options report” should be carried out in 2022. This has been attempted before in 1998, but failed because Austria’s SPÖ party did not want to examine NATO membership at the time.

Following the decision of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, 23 EU countries now belong to the North Atlantic Defense Alliance. Only Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and Austria remain outside.

Plassnik called for debate, saying Austria was a “stowaway” in terms of security policy, in which its neighbors, the NATO members, paid the insurance policy. She added while Austrians may “carry neutrality in their hearts” it was important not to lose their heads. 

READ MORE: ‘No country is an island’: Is it time for Austria to abandon its neutrality policy?

No more headscarf ban in Austrian kindergartens

The headscarf ban in Austria’s kindergartens has been repealed. The measure will no longer be included in the new 15a agreement between the federal and state governments, broadcaster ORF reports. A law banning headscarves in Austrian schools, introduced under the previous ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government was overturned previously because it was found not to be compatible with Austria’s federal constitution. However, state laws mean in kindergartens, the ban is still in force, except in Salzburg and Tyrol. The constitutional court said in a statement that these laws were probably also unconstitutional

 A new 15a agreement is currently being negotiated between the federal and state governments, as the current regulation expires at the end of August. The details will be revealed later today (Friday). It is expected the government will announce payments of a  “kindergarten billion” distributed over the next five years. This will mean Austria’s federal states will receive money to expand their offer in the compulsory kindergarten year before school, and to give better language support. The agreement is already drawing criticism for not including enough quality criteria around group sizes or care. 

Virologist calms fears over monkey pox in Austria

The virologist Norbert Nowotny has sought to reassure people in Austria over the recent outbreaks of monkey pox which have been seen around the globe, in an interview with Puls 24

So far there have been no cases in Austria, but the virologist said it was possible there would be one or two imported cases. For people with a healthy immune system monkey pox was “no big deal” he said. However in immunocompromised people, the infection can be more severe.

Gewessler calls for Austria to adapt “circular economy”

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Green Minister for the Environment is working on a strategy for a circular economy, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing and recycling existing materials and products rather than buying new ones. She said repairs were an important factor to allow Austria to become climate-neutral by 2050 and operate sustainably. In order for long-lasting devices and repairs to be better established on the market, many other coordinated measures are needed in addition to the new repair bonus – as is the case for the entire strategy itself, which could be completed by June.

READ MORE: Repair bonus: How to get money back when electrical items break in Austria

Law changes to give more support to displaced people from Ukraine

Austria’s laws will change to give more support for people displaced from Ukraine, despite the ‘no’ votes of the FPÖ. Ukrainians have now been included in an Integration Act, giving them access to German and orientation courses. It should become easier for Ukrainians to enter the labour market, and have their educational qualifications and professional qualifications recognised, broadcaster ORF reports.

European parliament votes in favour of sanctions against Austria’s former foreign minister

The European Parliament voted by a large majority in favor of sanctions against politicians and Europeans who draw large amounts of money from Russia on Thursday, naming Austria’s  former FPÖ Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl along with Germany’s ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. 

The text also mentioned Austria’s former Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP), noting he had “recently resigned” from his office in a Russian company in contrast to politicians such as Kneissl, broadcaster ORF reports.

Payments for Russian gas can be made in roubles, according to ‘EU circles’ 

According to information from EU Commission circles, gas importers such as Austria are also allowed to open a rouble account with the Russian Gazprombank as long as they pay their bills in the agreed currencies, euros or dollars, to another account. Commission officials clarified on Thursday that this would be in line with EU sanctions. The exchange of western currencies into roubles would then have to be carried out via the second account on the Russian side.

The commission recommended states should not set up rouble accounts if possible, but this recommendation has no legal consequences, broadcaster ORF reports. 

At the end of April, Austria’s ÖVP Chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said that it was “fake news from Russian propaganda” that states such as Austria were willing to pay for the gas in roubles and insisted Austria’s energy company, OMV, would continue to pay for gas deliveries from Russia in euros. The Polish politician and former EU Council President Donald Tusk then accused Austria and Germany of having entered the “rouble zone”.

 The Russian energy company Gazprom has halted its gas  supplies to Poland and Bulgaria since they refused to pay for their gas in roubles.