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COVID-19 ALERT

‘The pandemic is not over’: Vienna keeps mask rule in public transport

Austria's capital has decided to keep mandatory FFP2 masks in public transport but is dropping them in supermarkets.

Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Austria’s capital Vienna will still have mandatory usage of FFP2 masks even if the federal government is dropping the requirement in the rest of the country.

It will still be mandatory in Vienna to wear masks when public transport, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, SPÖ Mayor Michael Ludwig announced this Tuesday.

People no longer will need to wear masks in supermarkets and other essential trade, though. The decision was taken after a meeting with the city crisis committee and health authorities, according to the mayor.

“The pandemic is not over yet. We will remain on the consistent and safe path”, Ludwig said.

Earlier this Tuesday, Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) had announced the country would “pause” mask requirements from June 1st in all but health establishments during the summer months, as reported.

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

Rauch justified the decision by saying that the coronavirus numbers, both of new infections and of hospitalised people, have significantly dropped and maintained a downwards trend for weeks.

“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”, he said.

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.

However, the federal government sets out the minimum standard for the country, but the different states may adopt stricter measures. Vienna has often kept tougher regulations during the pandemic, including a more extended period when only vaccinated or recovered people were allowed in bars and restaurants.

Vaccination campaign

The Viennese mayor also commented on the suspended vaccine mandate law, stating that vaccination protects and the city would have a “corresponding vaccination campaign soon”.

Ludwig added that he would demand the same from the federal government. “All of this is done to protect the health of the Viennese population”, he said.

Austria this Tuesday reported 2,177 new coronavirus infections after 185,230 PCR tests, according to the Health Ministry. Currently, there are 596 people hospitalised with Covid-19 and 57 in intensive care units.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,607 people have died from Covid-19 in the country.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria's federal government on Thursday announced it would scrap its controversial mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law.

Austria announces it will scrap mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law

Austria will cancel its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law, the federal government announced during a press conference on Thursday.

The controversial law had been suspended until August after coronavirus infection rates slowed. However, it hadn’t been abolished.

The government could still bring back a set of regulations allowing police to check people’s vaccinated status. Those that could not prove they were either vaccinated, or recently recovered from the disease, would have to pay a fine.

“The omicron variant changed the situation”, health minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

He added that the law was introduced in a different context and was supported by “a clear majority” at the time when hospitals were full and “intensive care units were on the limit”.

The minister said that the new variant has reduced the effectiveness of vaccination against infections and has caused less severe courses of the disease.

“Even people who are willing to vaccinate in principle are now more difficult to convince of the need for a third dose”.

Rauch said the obligation to vaccinate did not increase the take up of the Covid jab. Instead, it “opened deep trenches in Austrian society”, according to the minister.

The controversial law provoked numerous street protests throughout Austria after it was announced.

The minister said that the obligation itself even made some give up on their intent to get the jab.

Living with Covid

The new variants bring a new scenario to Austria and people will need to learn to coexist with the virus, according to the health minister.

“Living with Covid means that we will bring forward a comprehensive package of measures, and today that means the abolition of compulsory vaccination,” Rauch said.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

The minister reiterated that vaccination is essential, especially as it helps prevent hospitalisations and more severe disease courses. He added that there should be an extensive vaccination campaign before Autumn and an expected winter Covid-19 wave.

Currently, about 62 percent of the Austrian population has a valid vaccination certificate. However, the number has decreased as people fail to schedule booster, or a third-dose, appointments.

The ins and outs of the vaccine mandate

The law was first introduced in February, even though the technical requirements for it to be enacted were not in place. The first stage was purely “informational”, and Austrian residents received letters explaining vaccines and the regulation.

A second stage, when people could have been fined if not vaccinated, was set to start in mid-March. Before a single person was fined, though, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) suspended the law with an ordinance.

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