Schanigärten against Covid: Vienna to allow outdoor dining through winter

The Austrian 'Schanigärten' tradition will be allowed to take place even during the cold months in Vienna as the pandemic will 'unfortunately accompany us'

vienna cafe bar outdoor seating
Vienna's sidewalk eating areas can stay open during the winter. (Photo by Rick Govic on Unsplash)

The City of Vienna has confirmed that it will extend the regulation allowing the sidewalk eating areas, known as Schanigärten, to continue open during the winter season.

The Schanigärten is the Austrian term for the tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk in front of bars and restaurants. The establishments need a special permit to set them up, as they are built in public areas.

Usually, the licenses are only for the spring and summer months. Still, with the coronavirus pandemic, businesses in Vienna have been able to keep the seating areas open during the cold season.

READ ALSO: Vienna announces stricter Covid rules in hospitals to protect the ‘vulnerable’

The goal is for Viennese gastronomy to offer its guests “maximum comfort and even more safety over the coming autumn and winter”, according to a press statement. Businesses that have a summer Schanigarten permit can extend it to February 28th.

The Austrian capital said the measure would also provide financial relief to companies, as they will save costs of dismantling, temporary storage and reassembly of the areas.

During the 2021/22 winter season, more than half of the Viennese restaurants took advantage of the offer and kept the areas open over autumn and winter.

“Due to the current pandemic situation, it was clear to me that the extension of these special measures also makes sense for the coming winter season because we must continue to do everything possible to help Viennese entrepreneurs continue to run their business successfully”, Finance City Councilor Peter Hanke said.

READ ALSO: Travel: What Covid rules are in place when visiting Austria this summer?

Coronavirus cases continue rising

The outdoor seating areas are also seen as safer for guests than crowded indoor rooms, especially as the numbers of new coronavirus infections continue rising even during the summer.

On Monday, July 18th, Austria’s Health Ministry reported 8,449 new coronavirus cases after 62,364 PCR tests were taken. There were 1,301 people in hospitals being treated for Covid-19 (143 more than the day before), and 76 people were in intensive care units.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,934 people have died from Covid-19 in Austria. Only 61 percent of the population has valid immunity protection, which consists of a combination between valid vaccines and/or recovered status.

READ ALSO: Will Austria bring back its mask mandate before autumn?

Despite rising Covid-19 numbers, the government says that the situation in hospitals is still manageable and that it does not expect any new restrictions to be announced in the short term.

However, Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) had already warned that measures such as mandatory use of masks would likely come back during the autumn months when transmission of airborne viruses tends to increase.

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Vienna forced to dim street lighting and cancel some Christmas illuminations

Christmas illuminations in Vienna will also be scaled back this year as part of the city's energy saving measures.

Vienna forced to dim street lighting and cancel some Christmas illuminations

Vienna, a city known for its Christmas markets and its New Year concert, is cutting back on public lighting in the face of soaring energy prices.

“There will be no Christmas illuminations this year on the Ring,” the famous boulevard that encircles the centre of the Austrian capital, city spokeswoman Roberta Kraft told AFP.

READ MORE: Five of the biggest challenges facing Austria right now

And the lights at the Christmas market in the square in front of the city hall would only be switched on at night and not at dusk, as in previous years, “which is to say about an hour later, on average, every day”, she said.

The city authorities said they had not calculated exactly how much they would save, but the move comes after energy prices have skyrocketed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its response to Western sanctions.

Last Friday, the Austrian Energy Agency announced that its electricity price index for September rose by more than 256 percent year-on-year.

READ ALSO: Inflation at 9.2% in July: How to beat rising prices in Austria

Austria, with its population of nine million, is very dependent on tourism and its end-of-year celebrations are a major motor of the economy.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down much international travel, more than four million people visited Vienna’s famous Christmas markets in 2019.

In 2021, around 30 of Vienna’s shopping streets were lit up for seven hours a day, from November 12 until early January.