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

The Federal Government has announced the next steps regarding the remaining coronavirus restrictions still in place in the country.

Could the relaxation of Covid measures in Austria be behind the spike in infections? Photo: Christof STACHE / AFP
Austria "paused" its FFP2 mask mandate Photo: Christof STACHE / AFP

Austria’s federal government has announced a “pause” to the mandatory FFP2 masks in essential trade, such as supermarkets, and public transport from June 1st.

Masks will still need to be worn in health and care facilities, the turquoise-green federal government announced in a press conference this Tuesday, 24th.

“The number of new infections has fallen, as well as the number of people in hospitals due to Covid-19, for several weeks now. This is good news”, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said.

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

Since the last major easing step in mid-April, the FFP2 obligation has only been in force in enclosed spaces of hospitals and homes, public transport and taxis, in the customer area of vital trade, in party traffic of administrative authorities and in institutions for the practice of religion outside trade fairs.

Rauch stated 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.

Vienna to “evaluate the situation”

On his social media, Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig stated that the capital’s crisis team would meet to evaluate the situation before deciding on whether or not they’d maintain the mask mandate for the city.

The federal government in Austria can make a minimum standard of the Covid regulations, but it is up to the states to decide if they want to keep stricter measures. Vienna has on several occasions announced it wouldn’t not follow federal easing, most notably keeping a 2G (only vaccinated or recovered people) rule in the gastronomy for weeks after those rules fell in the rest of the country.

“Based on the committee assessment, we will make a decision for Vienna, which we will communicate promptly”, the SPÖ mayor said.

Vaccination mandate is still suspended

Minister of the Constitution Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP) said that the compulsory vaccination law would remain suspended due to the lowering numbers of Covid-19 infections in Austria.

“A focus on the vaccination obligation is currently not justified”, she said during the press conference. Still, Edtstadler reiterated a request for the population to get vaccinated: “the vaccine works”.

The minister mentioned that she tested positive for Covid-19 after being three times vaccinated, saying that the vaccine protects against the severe courses of the disease.

BACKGROUND: EXPLAINED: How Austria’s compulsory vaccine mandate could be back in June

Still, Health Minister Rauch reminded people to get the vaccine and get a booster before the autumn months, to protect against possible new variants and hospitalisation. “We will have refresher campaigns from August to prepare for winter”, he stated.

No more corona tests in schools

Since the number of positive corona tests is decreasing, all measures are also lifted in schools. From June, there will be no more corona tests for students in schools, stated Minister of Education Martin Polaschek (ÖVP). A weekly PCR test is currently mandatory for class attendance.

In the case of new Covid cases in the a specific class, antigen tests can continue to be carried out,” added Polaschek. The epidemiological situation will determine if the testing capabilities will be resumed again in autumn. 

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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.