Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

The Austrian capital Vienna announced on Friday it would keep its stricter rules - most notably the FFP2 mask mandate on public transport - beyond summer.

Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October
Commuters wear FFP2 protective face masks while leaving a train at the Westbahnhof underground station in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The City of Vienna has extended the Covid-19 ordinance that provides for, among other things, the FFP2 mask obligation in public transport until October 23rd, daily Der Standard reported.

The regulation was set to expire on August 23rd but was quietly extended, a spokesman for Health City Councillor Peter Hacker (SPÖ) confirmed.

Vienna has stricter regulations when compared to federal standards and other states. Therefore, in the capital, people will continue to need to wear FFP2 masks in all forms of public transport, including its stations, stops, and platforms. The difference in standards leads to strange situations with people travelling to the capital by train being told they must put on masks as they cross the city limit.

The mask is also mandatory in customer areas of pharmacies.

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

Elderly care and nursing homes

The City of Vienna also has (and will maintain) stricter rules regarding the elderly and nursing homes. In the capital, visitors and companions must show a negative PCR test taken within the last 48 hours.

The PCR test requirement also applies to hospitals and other health facilities.

Only three visitors per patient are allowed daily and employees must present PCR tests at least twice a week and wear FFP2 masks indoors.

No stricter measures in sight

Despite the extended regulation, there are no indications that the government (state or federal) will impose more stringent measures. As Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalisations stabilise at what is considered to be a lower level, the City of Vienna is refraining from bringing more restrictions as summer comes to an end.

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

Similarly, the federal government has already said that there is no intention to reintroduce a mask requirement at the beginning of September.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country, Health Minister Johannes Rauch said it would be a provisional three-month “mask pause”. However, as Austria is currently in a “favourable scenario”, no new measures are planned.

Rauch’s office said that the government would, instead, react to changes in the corona situation as needed.

READ ALSO: What Covid-19 rules will be in place in Austrian schools?

Useful vocabulary

Quarantäne – quarantine
Maskenpflicht – mask mandate
Pflegeheime – care homes
Bundesregeln – national rules
Besucher*innen – visitors

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Could Austria be spared another wave of Covid this winter?

Specialists in Austria - and worldwide - can't agree if the Covid-19 pandemic is nearing its end, and many remain cautious. Here's what you need to know.

Could Austria be spared another wave of Covid this winter?

The World Health Organisation’s head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said that the pandemic was not over yet, but that “the end is in sight”. Similarly, US President Joe Biden stated: “The pandemic is over, but we still have a problem with Covid.”

In Austria, experts are cautiously optimistic. Dorothee von Laer, a virologist at the Medical University of Innsbruck, said: “A pandemic is over when a high level of immunity has built up in the population, and that is probably the case everywhere in the world except in China”, Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard reported.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get the new adapted Covid-19 vaccine in Austria

Herwig Kollaritsch, infectologist and member of Austria’s national vaccination panel (NIG), has a similar view. “We are increasingly getting into a somewhat better situation because the immunity level in the population is rising due to many vaccinations and infections.”

Though he is more cautious: “We have always had problems due to a change of variants, and even now, we are absolutely not safe from surprises”.

New variants

The biggest fear ahead of winter is precisely that: a change of variants, specialists say. Especially since more and more omicron mutations are being found and they can circumvent the immune defences quite well, Ulrich Elling, a molecular biologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, told Der Standard.

However, since all the current mutations are still omicron variants, the severe courses of the disease continue to be rare.

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

“We still use hospitalisation and death rates as parameters. So when it comes to that, we are out of the woods. But still, a lot of people will get sick – not very seriously, but they will get sick,” Kollaritsch said.

Elling agrees: “Of course, statements about the supposed end of the pandemic are striking a chord with people at the moment. We all want it to be over. Nevertheless, the numbers will rise again. Above all, the new variants escape our immune response more than any other variant before.”

For him, it’s wrong to say that the pandemic is over or that there won’t be a new infection wave in winter. Even though they may be of milder courses of the disease, the virus is still out there and will infect people in the coming months, he believes.

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