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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Masks against Covid and flu: What’s ahead for Austria this winter

The City of Vienna has confirmed its rule on mandatory masks in public transport stay - and Austrian experts are worried about a 'flu pandemic'. Here's what you need to know ahead of winter.

Masks against Covid and flu: What's ahead for Austria this winter

Austria’s capital Vienna has long kept a pandemic restriction that other states have already dropped: the mandatory use of FFP2 masks in public transport and stations. 

When tourists arrive in Vienna via the international airport, they often take the train or a bus to the city centre and face a strange ritual: at some point during their journey, people are asked to put on their masks – as soon as they cross the city lines, of course.

These rules are not about to change any time soon. Vienna City Health Councillor Peter Hacker (SPÖ) has confirmed to Austrian media that the mask mandate in trams, buses and metros will stay at least until January 15th. They must also be worn in public transport stations, pharmacies and all Vienna health and care institutions.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

Additionally, people who test positive for coronavirus need to wear an FFP2 mask outside their homes in all enclosed spaces and on public transport at all times. If a minimum distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained outdoors or persons from outside the household are visiting, an FFP2 mask must also be worn here. 

These rules are known as the “Verkehrsbeschränkung” in Austria and are also valid in other provinces.

Adults and children aged 14 and over must wear an FFP2 mask, but children between 6 and 14 years of age and pregnant women may wear mouth-nose protection instead of an FFP2 mask.

Flu pandemic is on its way

Austrian experts have said there would likely be an exceptionally high wave of the flu after hardly any cases were registered in the past two years, Der Standard reported.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

The measures against Covid-19 prevented infections with Sars-CoV-2 and curbed the spread of influenza and other cold viruses.

According to the Center for Virology at MedUni Vienna, only a “slight upward trend” has been observed in influenza throughout Europe so far.

In principle, the influenza vaccination protects against symptomatic infection for four months: “About 80 percent for H1 viruses, about 50 to 60 percent for H3 strains and 60 to 70 percent for B viruses,” said Monika Redlberger-Fritz, a virologist from Med-Uni Vienna.

She added: “But even with vaccine breakthroughs, you are still very well protected against complications, hospitalisations and death.”

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Austria

According to the doctor, it would be desirable for 60 to 65 percent of the population to be vaccinated against Influenza, though. How many flu vaccinations have already been administered throughout Austria is still being determined. 

Unlike the Covid-19 vaccination, the flu vaccination is not organised by the federal government but by the respective provinces, which file a report only after the flu season. A detailed list of the offers in the regions can be found on the Ministry of Social Affairs website.