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

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

People make their way in pedal boats on the Old Danube (Alte Donnau) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
People make their way in pedal boats on the Old Danube (Alte Donnau) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria’s ruling coalition party rejects calls for easier path to citizenship

The centre-right ÖVP party, which is in Austria’s ruling coalition along with the Greens, has rejected calls from the centre-left opposition SPÖ party to make it easier for people to become Austrian citizens, Der Standard newspaper reports.

ÖVP Integration minister Susanne Raab said the proposal, which suggested a legal right to naturalisation after six years of legal residence was “completely wrong” and would allow more than half a million people to be naturalised “ in one fell swoop”.

Austria has some of the toughest citizenship requirements in the world, meaning for example, every third person in Vienna, for example, is not allowed to vote for lack of citizenship.

READ MORE: 

Seven day incidence at 25

The seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 25.3. All federal states are now under 50 – with Burgenland (10.9) having the lowest and Tyrol (39.6) the highest.

Austria’s coronavirus traffic light commission says the Austria is now low risk

Austria’s coronavirus traffic light commission has put the entire country into yellow-green, or low risk status. Only Tyrol and Vorarlberg remain yellow (medium-risk). Despite the openings, the numbers continue to decline almost everywhere. The development in Burgenland remains particularly favourable.

This state could even move into the green traffic light category. This would mean it was a very low risk state, with a maximum of five new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, broadcaster ORF reports.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s new five-colour Covid traffic light system?

Gyms hurting after pandemic 

Fitness studios and gyms in Austria are hurting due to the coronavirus pandemic, and have lost around 25 to 30 percent of their regular customers as a result of the lockdowns, broadcaster ORF reports.

“It will take two years to reach the pre-Corona level again,” according to WKÖ branch spokesman and fitness centre operator Christian Hörl. A wave of bankruptcies in the sector is expected when short-term work ends. The sector was booming before the pandemic, ORF notes.

Impeachment fails

Austrian opposition parties SPÖ, FPÖ, and NEOS failed to secure a majority to start an impeachment procedure against Finance Minister Blümel for late delivery of evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into the Ibiza scandal Der Standard newspaper reports.

Government parties ÖVP and Greens successfully used their majority in the National Council’s constitutional affairs committee to reject the motion, the newspaper adds.

READ MORE: Austrian minister’s home raided in casino corruption probe

Styria lagging behind with vaccinations

The governor of Styria Hermann Schützenhöfer (ÖVP) has said he would like to make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory for kindergarten staff, although this is not allowed by Austria’s constitution, in an interview with the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. He says vaccination fatigue has set in in the state and registrations have decreased. So far 560,000 of 1.1 million eligible Styrians have received their first jab and 227,000 both jabs.

The Ministry of Health’s vaccination dashboard shows that Styria, with 50.9 percent of those who can be vaccinated, is just below the Austrian average of 51.5 percent.

Austria praised for recognising intersex citizens and fighting online hatred

Austria has been praised for including birth certificates with the gender designation “inter” and for measures to fight online hatred in the annual report of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency FRA, published on Thursday. 

In December, the National Council passed measures against “online hatred” which are intended to make it easier for victims to take action against authors of hate postings.

In July 2020, Alex Jürgen was the first person in Austria to receive a birth certificate with the gender designation “inter” having been born  in 1976 with underdeveloped male sexual organs. 

Since September 2020, in addition to “male”, “female” and “diverse” entries as “inter”, “open” and “no entry” have been possible in the civil status register, as the FRA report also notes.

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ECONOMY

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

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

READ NEXT: ‘We need immigration’: Austrian minister insists foreign workers are the only solution

The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The Covid-19 measures for the start of the Austrian school year

There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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