Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Monday

Find out what's going on in Austria on Monday with The Local's short roundup of today's news.

Sepp Rieser, owner of the herd, watches decorated cows with bells and flowers before leaving their summer pastures during the annual ceremonial
Cows in Tyrol's Karwendel Alpine nature park near Pertisau, Austria. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Disagreement over easing steps

Disagreement continues within Austria’s governing coalition about the next steps to take to ease coronavirus restrictions, according to broadcaster ORF. Chancellor Kurz has announced likely easing steps regarding face masks and social distancing measures in shops ahead of a meeting with state governors scheduled for May 28th. However, Health Minister Mückstein indicated the announcement had not been coordinated with him and that he advised greater caution, noting that some restrictions were likely to remain in place until the end of the year.

Seven-day incidence at 48

The seven-day incidence, or number of infections per 100,000 people, continues to fall and is now 48. The federal state with the highest seven-day incidence is currently Tyrol with 72.9, followed by Vorarlberg, Upper Austria and Styria (72, 55.2 and 54.2, respectively). Carinthia (46.1), Vienna (43.7), Lower Austria (37), Burgenland (30.9) and Salzburg (24.9) also follow.

Upper Austria opens vaccinations for everyone over 16 years of age

Upper Austria has opened vaccinations for all age groups from today. For the time being, those who have already registered have priority. From May 29th, all other Upper Austrians over the age of 16 can book an appointment directly. Another new feature is that when you register, you can find out which vaccine will be used at the respective appointment.

Masks until winter?

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) has told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper that people will still have to wear a mask until winter, especially when indoors. However, the mask requirement outside may be up for debate. 

Border controls to the Czech Republic and Slovakia lifted

Austria lifted the temporary reintroduction of border controls with the Czech Republic and Slovakia on Saturday morning. However, there will still be controls in place for people who cannot prove that they have been exclusively in Austria or their home country within the last ten days. They must present evidence they have tested negative, been vaccinated against or recovered from the coronavirus, or take a test within 24 hours. Those testing negative must quarantine for five days. 

According to the Ministry of Health, countries with a low incidence of infection are currently Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Liechtenstein, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, South Korea, Czech Republic, Hungary and the Vatican.

Austria supports Western Balkans’ EU accession

The Foreign Ministers of Slovenia, Austria and the Czech Republic, Anže Logar, Alexander Schallenberg and Jakub Kulhanek visited Tirana on Sunday, where they met with their Albanian counterpart Olta Xhaçka and emphasised their support of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said he hopes talks can begin as early as June. Schallenberg also indicated that Austria believes it is in the “strategic interest” of member states for the EU to expand not just to include Albania and North Macedonia, but also Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia, the Kronen Zeitung reports. 

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Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Mask rules being discussed with a possible relaxation on the way, Ibiza affair remembered, snake found in kindergarten sandpit and more news on Wednesday.

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Austria’s National Council meets to discuss masks, the extension of pandemic laws and deficit 

Austria’s National Council will meet today (Wednesday) and Thursday. The new Minister of Agriculture Norbert Totschnig (ÖVP) is also expected to be sworn in this morning, having missed out on the ceremony due to a Covid infection last week. 

One item on the agenda is Austria’s mask rules. The council will discuss whether to extend the rules requiring masks to be worn in supermarkets, hospitals and banks over the summer. The current mask rules expire on July 8th. This law affects around 130,000 employees who work in retail. 

READ MORE: Austria to keep masks only in essential places from April 17th

The council will also extend laws aimed at countering the Covid pandemic, by ensuring the regulations in the Epidemics Act stay in place until June next year. This means the government will continue to have the right to impose exit restrictions from local epidemic areas and register people entering Austria. If necessary, it will still be possible for the government to make catering establishments and event organisers to collect the contact details of their guests.

Austria’s deficit will increase by 6.5 billion euros to 19.1 billion euros due to the effects of the war in Ukraine. Extra money will be spent on a national strategic gas reserve, energy relief packages and aid measures for displaced Ukrainians, while revenue is expected to fall due to lower economic growth, broadcaster ORF reports. 

Chancellor’s greeting to his party hints at further relaxation of Covid measures

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) greeted his party on Saturday, saying: “So many in such a small room also means: so many viruses, but now we don’t care anymore.” He has since apologised and said he is aware the pandemic is still ongoing, according to the Kronen Zeitung newspaper. However, all entry rules to Austria were abolished on Monday, and the National Council will discuss mask wearing in supermarkets, banks and hospitals today (Wednesday). 

Gecko Chairwoman and Chief Medical Officer Katharina Reich has told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper that she believes masks should stay in essential retail. However, virologist Dorothee von Laer told the Kurier she considers dropping the mask requirement in July to be “justifiable”.

‘Ibiza scandal’ vice chancellor ‘regrets’ resignation 

The ex-FPÖ leader and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who left politics in disgrace following the Ibiza affair, which also led to the downfall of Austria’s coalition government, now says he regrets his resignation. Strache gave an interview with Puls 24 in the Ibizan villa which was the scene of the scandal on the three year anniversary of the event, in which he described himself as the victim of a political assassination. 

The scandal blew up after Strache was secretly filmed meeting the supposed niece of a Russian oligarch in an Ibizan villa. During the video Strache spoke of investing in one of Austria’s most popular newspapers, the Kronen Zeitung and getting rid of some of its journalists. He also promised state contracts in return for help with  FPÖ political campaigns. After excerpts of the video were published in May 2019, Strache retired as a politician. He now says this resignation was “probably my biggest mistake”.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the scandal which continues to grip Austrian politics

Survey shows almost half of job seekers in Austria want to work from home 

A survey of 1,000 visitors to the job portal found that around 47 percent would not be interested in a job which offered no flexibility around working from home. According to the survey, 63 percent have had good or very good experiences with flexible working. While working from home has increased during the pandemic, it is not  yet an established practice in all companies. 

For employees, home working means greater flexibility and can have a positive impact on work-life balance, the Kronen Zeitung newspaper reports. 

Snake found in kindergarten sandpit

Summer must be on the way, because yet another snake has been discovered hiding in Austria, not in a toilet this time, but in a kindergarten sandpit. 

Staff at a kindergarten in Pasching, Upper Austria called the ICARA animal rescue service out on Tuesday afternoon because there was a dice snake about 30 centimetres long hiding in the children’s sandpit. The snake was given treatment for a slight injury and then released, the Kronen Zeitung reports.

READ MORE: Why do snakes keep appearing in Austrian toilets?