‘Entry tests’: What is Austria’s testing plan to allow bars and restaurants to open?

Austria is considering a scheme similar to that used for hairdressers, where visiting outdoor bars and restaurants can be possible with a negative coronavirus test. How would this look in practice?

'Entry tests': What is Austria’s testing plan to allow bars and restaurants to open?
Could beer gardens look a little less lonely in Austria soon? Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

At a meeting on Friday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the country was considering allowing people with evidence of a negative coronavirus test to visit bars and restaurants again from March. 

The scheme, similar to that used for hairdressers and tattoo parlours in Austria, would allow bars and restaurants to open again. 

Kurz said the gradual reopening – including of bars and restaurants – would see Austria “relying heavily on the testing system in order to make more freedom possible”.

READ MORE: Will testing allow bars and restaurants to open again in Austria from March? 

The Chancellor said the hospitality industry now had until March 1st to present a plan for how such a scheme should operate. 

A decision will be made on March 1st, from which bars and restaurants could again be allowed to open. 

What would this ‘entry testing’ plan look like? 

While it is a novel idea as a way to allow a gradual return to normal, Austrians do not need to look very far to see how such a plan might work. 

Austrians have been allowed to visit hairdressers and other ‘body hugging services’ like tattoo parlours and cosmetic services since February 8th. 

In order to do so, they need to bring a negative coronavirus test which is less than 48 hours old. 

EXPLAINED: What is Austria's compulsory testing requirement for visiting hairdressers? 

Like this scheme, Austrians wanting to visit bars or restaurants would need to provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test to enter. 

Haven’t I heard of this before? 

In January, Austrian state governors’ floated a plan to set up a system whereby evidence of a negative test will be shown on a person’s phone in order to enter bars, restaurants, events and performances. 

When gaining entry to an event such as a concert, theatre performance or a sports match, attendees would show evidence of a negative test – along with their admission ticket. 

READ MORE: Austria to extend coronavirus lockdown 

Under the proposed plan, anyone entering a bar or restaurant would need to provide evidence of their negative test – whether that be on their phone or through a testing certificate. 

How likely is it to pass? 

When the announcement was made on Friday, February 19th, Kurz appeared optimistic that such a plan could be successful. 

It appears to be a departure from the previous plan, which was opposed by many in the hospitality sector. 

At the press conference, Kurz said “the tide has turned” regarding opposition to the plan. 

“I understand every landlord or hotelier would rather unlock the door today than tomorrow,” Kurz said, pointing out that bars and restaurants “are an important part of our Austrian identity in everyday life”. 

The stumbling block last time was who would have the responsibility of checking that bars and restaurants were complying with the scheme. 

At the time, Der Standard reported that “the question of who would be responsible for checking the tests in bars emerged as the central problem” in the scheme. 

This could remain a problem, particularly at bars and restaurants where the responsibility of checking each person’s valid negative test may create an undue burden on already resource-strapped entities. 

However, with such a system working relatively well in hairdressers, bars and restaurants appear to have become more enthusiastic about the idea. 

The Austrian government will meet with industry representatives and make a decision on March 1st. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.