UPDATED: Covid-19: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

Telephone sick notes are back — but only for people with Covid-19, according to some reports. Here's what you need to know about the new rules in Austria.

UPDATED: Covid-19: What are Austria's new rules around sick leave for employees?
Telephone sick leave is back for positive Covid-19 cases in Austria. Photo by Stephane Mahe / Reuters.

As the quarantine requirement for positive Covid-19 cases in Austria is removed, people with the virus will now be able to obtain a sick note from a doctor by telephone again if they cannot work due to symptoms.

In the earlier stages of the pandemic, sick leave was also possible for all other illnesses by telephone.

However, there is confusion surrounding the new rules with differing interpretations of the guidelines being offered by the Ministry of Health and the Austrian Medical Association (ÖÄK).

On Monday August 1st, it was announced by the Ministry of Health that people will now have to actively ask a doctor for a sick note if they have Covid-19. Up until now, if someone tested positive, they received a notice of quarantine, which automatically put them on sick leave and self-isolation.

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

But Edgar Wutscher, Vice President of the ÖGK, contradicted the ministry and said: “From our point of view, it is possible to call in sick for all illnesses. 

“In some federal states, such as Vienna, the telemedical rules in the overall contract never ended the telephone sick note. And in the other federal states as well, the determination of incapacity and ability to work is basically the responsibility of the doctor.”

Meanwhile, when asked by APA on Monday, the Ministry of Health and the health insurance fund ÖGK repeated that only Covid-19 patients can get a sick note by phone.

The Local will monitor this story and update our report when the rules have been fully clarified by the relevant Austrian authorities.

What else has changed?

Also from Monday August 1st, mandatory self-isolation for people infected with Covid-19 ends in Austria.

However, if you have tested positive for Covid-19 and leave the house, you must wear an an FFP2 mask unless you are outdoors and there are no other people within two meters of you.

These so-called Verkehrsbeschränkung or “traffic restrictions” apply to all people who have tested positive, whether that is with an antigen test or a PCR test. But if you test positive with an antigen test and the subsequent PCR test is negative, the restrictions are lifted.

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

As before, if you test positive with both an antigen and a PCR test, the restrictions last for five days. After this time there is the option of doing a PCR test where the so-called ‘CT results’ can be analysed.

The CT value is technical information shown in lab reports in Austria for positive results. When the value is higher than 30, people have been allowed to leave their homes despite a positive test, as it means they have a low viral load. With the changes, they will no longer have to stick to any restrictions if their test is negative, or shows this value as higher than 30.

The maximum duration for the ‘traffic restriction’ is 10 days. 

This means as long as you wear a mask at all times, it is possible to meet up with friends, visit a museum, or go to work while testing positive. 

There are some exceptions though — people with Covid-19 cannot visit retirement and nursing homes, hospitals, day-care facilities for disabled and elderly people, Kindergartens, primary schools or other care facilities for children under 11.

Additionally, people belonging to high risk groups are still entitled to work from home if their health could be endangered by catching Covid-19.

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Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria's autumn Covid-19 plan includes a fourth Covid-19 dose to all those older than 12 and the Health Ministry doesn't rule out further measures, especially a return of the mask mandate.

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria’s Health Ministry and the country’s National Immunisation Panel (NIG) have recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population ahead of autumn.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) and physician Herwig Kollaritsch of the Immunisation Panel have requested people take the vaccination before the cold months, reiterating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protects against more severe courses of the disease.

“You can do a lot before autumn. Don’t wait until the numbers rise. Get vaccinated, take the booster shots”, Kollaritsch said in a press conference this Wednesday, August 31st.

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

The previous recommendation was only for people older than 60 or those in risk groups. “After there was already the booster recommendation for the vulnerable and over 60-year-olds over the summer, all other groups are to get a booster in the coming weeks,” the health minister said.

Only 58.9 percent of the population is currently sufficiently vaccinated, as per the recommendation of the National Immunisation Panel (NIG) – which for the majority of the population is three doses – or if they’ve had Covid then two doses and a recent recovered status.

New measures ahead of autumn

The health minister stopped short of announcing new Covid-19 measures for autumn.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country back in May, Rauch had said the suspension would be “temporary” and masks were likely to return after summer, depending on the pandemic, particularly on hospitalisation numbers.

Currently, masks are obligatory in the health sector and on public transport in Vienna.

“We evaluate the situation weekly by talking with the hospital heads in the states. We have a very good view of the Covid-19 data, and we don’t rule out bringing measures back in the future”, he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

He added: “It is likely that in the autumn, compulsory masks will again be useful and necessary in certain areas such as public transport or supermarkets,”.

For now, though, the minister said he recommends people to get vaccinated, wear masks where social distancing is not possible, and get tested regularly – even if those measures are not mandatory.

When should you get vaccinated?

The fourth vaccination should come a minimum of four months after the third one (or after a Covid-19 infection) but not after six months of the third dose (regardless of whether or not the person has had an infection after the last vaccine), according to the NIG.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Which Austrian states will allow Covid-infected teachers in classrooms?

For children between five and eleven years of age, the basic immunisation – which consists of three vaccinations – should be completed by the start of school at the latest; no booster vaccination is currently recommended in this age group.

Austria expects vaccines adapted to the omicron variant to arrive in the country before the end of September, the health minister said.