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COVID-19 RULES

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

A street in the Austrian capital of Vienna during lockdown.
A couple walk past closed boutique stores on the Graben, a street in the city centre of Vienna that is normally packed with crowds of people during one of Austria's lockdowns. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

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.

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COVID-19 RULES

LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

Some of Austria's Covid-19 Massnahmen (measures) changed again on August 1st. Here's what you need to know.

LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

As is often the case in Austria, the latest round of Covid-19 rules are not the same in all parts of the country, with some noticeable differences in Lower Austria and Vienna.

Quarantine rules – Austria-wide

Since Monday August 1st, mandatory self-isolation for people infected with Covid-19 is no longer a requirement in Austria (with the exception of Linz – see below).

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

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

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.

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. 

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

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, 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.

Quarantine rules – Linz

The capital city of Lower Austria has decided to go its own way and is not following the federal mandate on self-isolation rules.

At the Linz Magistrat (which has 3,000 employees), staff with Covid-19 must continue to stay at home, even they are symptom-free. Those without symptoms can work from home, but if it is not possible for someone to work from home, they will take sick leave instead.

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

The ruling extends to staff at municipal childcare facilities and retirement homes. Employees will be able to return to the workplace in line with the traffic restrictions detailed above (when they have a negative test result).

Sick leave

Another noticeable change from August 1st is that people with Covid-19 will 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, it was announced by the Ministry of Health that people will have to actively ask a doctor for a sick note if they have Covid-19 due to changes to the quarantine rules. Previously, if someone tested positive, they received a notice of quarantine, which automatically put them on sick leave and self-isolation.

FOR MEMBERS: Travel: What Covid rules are in place when visiting Austria this summer?

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 bring further updates when this has been clarified by the relevant Austrian authorities.

Masks

FFP2 masks must still be worn in hospitals, healthcare facilities (such as Hausarzt) and residential care homes – everywhere in Austria. 

Additionally, FFP2 masks are still required in pharmacies and on public transport in Vienna (including at stations).

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

The Austrian government has not ruled out re-introducing the mask mandate in essential stores and public spaces in the event of an increase in Covid-19 cases in the autumn and winter season.

Hospitals 

In Vienna, visitors to hospitals must present a negative PCR test no older than 48 hours, and only three visitors are allowed per patient per day.

Elsewhere, the national rules are visitors must present either a negative PCR (no older than 72 hours) or antigen test (no older than 24 hours) to enter a hospital.

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