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COVID-19 RULES

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

As Austria removed quarantine requirements for people who tested positive for Covid-19, many fear numbers will rise and lead to a new lockdown. So what are the government's plans?

positive covid test
People who test positive for Covid-19 will no longer have to avoid the workplace - with an exception in Linz. Photo: DAMIEN MEYER / AFP

Austria will remove the mandatory self-isolation requirement for people who test positive for Covid-19 from August 1st, as The Local reported on Tuesday.

People who do not feel sick will be allowed to leave their homes even after a positive Covid-19 test but will have to follow specific requirements, the Austrian federal government said.

The so-called “traffic restrictions” mean that those who don’t feel sick will be allowed to leave their homes but must wear an FFP2 mask indoors and outdoors whenever social distancing is not possible.

READ ALSO: Austria to remove quarantine for positive Covid-19 cases

Many experts are sceptical of the plans, though, calling them “irresponsible and dangerous” and warning that such a move could bring the health care system back to its limits.

What are the contingency plans for autumn?

One of the biggest fears is what will happen in the autumn and winter months when the cold brings people to enclosed areas and facilitates the spread of airborne viruses such as the coronavirus.

The federal government is reportedly working on a contingency plan, according to the newspaper Heute, which claims to have seen drafts of the plans.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best, the situation will remain as it is currently.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: What are the fines for not wearing masks on Vienna’s public transport?

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

There could be night-time exit restrictions, exit tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

READ ALSO: Schanigärten against Covid: Vienna to allow outdoor dining through winter

If all other protective measures fail, the last resort will be a new lockdown. “An early, short, but stringent lockdown – if not avoidable – is preferable”, the drafted plan states.

Covid-19 infections appear to be falling

While there is no sure prediction of what will happen in the next few months, currently, Covid-19 infections appear to be falling in Austria.

Austria’s Covid-19 traffic light system has classified Tyrol and Vorarlberg as a medium risk rather than high risk. Only Carinthia and Vienna saw an increase in infections. Styria has the lowest risk assessment, while Vienna has the highest.

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

The situation in the hospitals is currently relatively stable, both in terms of normal and intensive care units.

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COVID-19 STATS

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, with 2,428 people currently hospitalised with the disease, including 118 in intensive care (ICU).

One month ago, just 871 people were being treated in hospital with an additional 47 people in ICU.

The Austrian Federal Government has now said they will make a decision on bringing back the mask mandate by October 23rd. Last week, the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) recommended wearing FFP2 masks.

According to ORF, the mask mandate could return for public indoor spaces, public transport and in the gastronomy sector. The Austrian Trade Association has already rejected the suggestion saying it would be the “last straw” for employees as the industry struggles with staff shortages.

What are the Covid-19 experts predicting for the autumn and winter season?

The latest report from the Covid prognosis consortium in Austria predicts a rise in hospitalisations in October. 

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.

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