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

In Austria, almost 11,000 new coronavirus infections were registered in 24 hours and increasing Covid-19 numbers are worrying experts.

austria covid test
Employees in the LifeBrain laboratory prepare the coronavirus (Covid-19) PCR gargle test samples in Vienna on February 1, 2022. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

“We need personal responsibility, for people to take precautions concerning others”, Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) told journalists this Wednesday.

The minister presented a concept known as “living with Covid”, learning to deal with the pandemic without resorting to severe restrictions on daily lives. People would have to take personal responsibility to, for example, wear masks in crowds and when close to vulnerable people.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

Still, he added that he would not rule out pandemic restrictions, such as mandatory masks if there is another increase in numbers – particularly of people in hospitals.

“I don’t see lockdowns or curfews for now”, Rauch said. He added that no new measures should be taken in the near future “because we do not see any dramatic change in hospitals”.

The minister added it was time to get into a mode to “live with the virus” instead of a crisis mode. In the past two years, Rauch stated, mental illnesses and suicide rates have increased, so “health shouldn’t be defined only as an absence of Covid”.

Covid numbers

This Wednesday, June 22nd, Austria reported 10,898 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. There were 653 people hospitalised with Covid-19 and 50 in intensive care units.

The increasing numbers are seen with no surprise by the government.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Where are cases rising in Austria?

The Austrian Covid commission’s forecast had stated that the increase was part of a trend observed for the past two weeks and expected to continue. 

At the same time, the number of people with valid vaccinations is dropping, as many fail to attend booster appointments. As a result, only 62.4 percent of the Austrian population has a valid green pass, according to the government.

Customers wearing FFP2 protective face masks stand in front of a shelf with such masks in a supermarket in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Why are the Covid-19 numbers rising?

Austria’s corona commission said that the omicron subvariant BA.4/BA.5 is a decisive factor in the increase, as it is considered more infectious – and is expected to become dominant in the coming week.

“Additionally, an increased proportion of travel-associated cases has been observed in recent weeks”, the commission said. It added that “an influence of recent major events cannot be ruled out either”, a likely reference to the war in Ukraine and a large influx of refugees from the country.

Dorothee von Laer, a Med-Uni Innsbruck virologist, 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.

She also cited that “recent rainy days” led to more people being indoors. “I believe there are many different factors that come together”.

Should I get a fourth Covid vaccination?

There is currently no consensus on when to get a fourth Covid shot, also known as a “second booster”. Austria’s National Vaccination Committee (NIG) has recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, but only for those deemed at risk of serious illness.

READ ALSO: Covid-19 in Austria: When should you get your fourth vaccine dose?

The NIG identifies risk groups as people over 80 and those between the ages of 65 and 79 with a weakened immune system or existing health conditions.

The committee is considering lowering the recommended age to 65, even for people with no other health conditions. An official recommendation should be announced in the coming days, the Health Minister said.

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Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were ‘unconstitutional’

Austria's constitutional court found that banning unvaccinated people from going to hairdressers or cultural institutions was unconstitutional

Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were 'unconstitutional'

The Constitutional Court (VfGH) has found a regulation which stopped people from going to hairdressers in the second lockdown for the unvaccinated was unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal.

However, the Court of Justice did confirm it was admissible to distinguish between people with and without 2G evidence (proof they had recovered from or been vaccinated against Covid-19), meaning the lockdown for the unvaccinated was itself legal.

READ ALSO: Four options: These are Austria’s autumn Covid lockdown plans

As there were exceptions to the lockdown, allowing people without vaccinations to leave their homes to “cover the necessary basic needs of daily life”, this should have included trips to the hairdressers as part of these “basic needs” on a long term, the court ruled.

It clarified that the rules were at first supposed to last for 10 days, but as the lockdown got extended several times, lasting a total of 11 weeks, the “basic needs” evolved and should have included hairdresser visits.

According to the Constitutional Court, it was also illegal for the government to ban unvaccinated people from entering cultural institutions in autumn 2021.

In this case, the reason was that people were still allowed to go to church and other places of religion, which the court found was “in violation of equality”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The court found the ban on entering sports facilities ordered by the Minister of Health during the first lockdown in March and April 2020 was also unlawful, as there was not sufficient justification, broadcaster ORF reported.

Strict Covid-19 measures

Austria was one of the countries which imposed several lockdown periods during the pandemic, as The Local reported. While some were aimed at the entire population, more recently, only those who didn’t get vaccinated against Covid-19 were prevented from going out of their homes without a justification (such as grocery shopping or emergencies).

The country had also imposed a Covid-19 vaccination mandate, but that was scrapped after new variants of the virus evolved into less severe cases of the disease, the government said.

Currently, there are few coronavirus restrictions in place. You can check out all the measures across Austria here.