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Austria considers mandatory PCR tests for returning travellers

Austria is considering making PCR testing mandatory for travellers returning from high risk areas, with one third of new infections coming from travel.

Austria considers mandatory PCR tests for returning travellers
Travellers at Vienna Airport. Photo: HELMUT FOHRINGER / APA / AFP

Austria’s health department wants to introduce mandatory PCR testing for those returning from travel, as this share of infections is on the rise, broadcaster ORF  reports.

Minister of Health Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) had been pushing for PCR tests to be made mandatory for returning travellers from July 22nd, but this was not introduced. 

Mückstein had wanted PCR tests to be made mandatory for people returning from risk areas, such as Spain. 

After all, the number of infections is rising sharply across Europe and Austria and travel clusters are becoming more and more obvious.

READ MORE: One third of new Covid-19 cases in Austria from travel abroad

But on Wednesday the ÖVP signalled that it was sticking to the easing plans as forecast and did not want any further tightening, arguing that this was not urgent as the intensive care units are currently empty. 

On Thursday, the Corona Task Force (Chancellery, Health Minister, Tourism and Interior Ministry) will meet again at Ballhausplatz to discuss the proposed measure.

PCR tests now required in nightlife

There will be more pharmacies throughout Austria offering PCR tests, as these are now a requirement for those wishing to access late night establishments.

From July 22nd, only people who have been vaccinated or those who have had a negative PCR test less than 72 hours ago can attend nightclubs.

This rule might also be extended to tent parties.

People who have recovered from the virus or those who have tested negative with antigen tests will not be allowed to attend.

Free PCR tests will be available at pharmacies in the next few days, President of the Chamber of Pharmacists, Ulrike Mursch-Edlmayr, announced on Wednesday, July 21st.

Gurgle tests to be expanded

There are also plans to expand Vienna’s “gurgle test” scheme.

In Salzburg, PCR tests available in the 15 test lanes of the Red Cross from Friday, in Linz a pilot project for “Alles gurgelt” is already running, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. Carinthia will also offer the Vienna project from August and in Vorarlberg pharmacies will have PCR tests offered. .

READ MORE: Vienna to roll out free coronavirus ‘gurgle tests’ next week

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LATEST: What are Austria’s current Covid-19 rules?

Travellers entering the country no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, but masks are still mandatory in some places.

LATEST: What are Austria's current Covid-19 rules?

From Monday, May 16th, travellers coming into Austria no longer need to present proof that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have tested negative for the disease, or recently recovered from it.

Previously, the so-called 3G rules were in place for all people coming into Austria, with very few exceptions.

The government over the weekend dropped the requirements just ahead of warmer months, stating that the epidemiological situation no longer justified them.

On Sunday, 15th, Austria reported 3,777 new coronavirus cases after just under 110,000 PCR tests were taken. In total, 807 people are currently hospitalised with the disease, and 62 are in intensive care units. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,303 people have died from Covid-19 in Austria.

Despite dropping the entry requirements, the federal government reiterated that the rules could change, mainly if a variant of concern is found.

READ ALSO: Austria extends Covid regulations as experts warn of autumn resurgence

Domestically, Austria still has a few coronavirus restrictions in place, including an FFP2 mask mandate in some areas.

These are the latest rules you need to be aware of:

FFP2 mask mandate

The obligation to wear an FFP2 mask only applies in enclosed spaces of hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport (including stops and stations), taxis, customer areas of vital trade, such as supermarkets, and administrative buildings.

The mask mandate is no longer in place for enclosed places like gyms, restaurants and bars, and cultural establishments, but masks are still recommended.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Isolation after a positive test

After the fifth day of isolation and at least 48 hours without symptoms, you can end quarantine for mild or asymptomatic cases.

However, there is a “traffic restriction” for another five days, with a mask mandate and no entry permitted in gastronomy venues, health and care homes, and events during this period.

READ ALSO: Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

In order to obtain an early lifting of the restrictions, a free PCR test can be carried out. If the test is negative or with a CT value (short for Cycle Threshold and is the gold standard for detecting Covid-19) above 30, the isolation can be lifted.

If the value is below 30, then you must remain in isolation.

Vienna doesn’t follow the ‘traffic restriction’, so the only way to end the 10-day isolation is with a PCR test (negative or CT value below 30) after two symptom-free days.

You can find more information on federal restrictions on the government website here.

The 3G rule

A 3G rule (proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, recently recovered from the disease or has a negative test) is generally only needed for visitors, employees and service providers in hospitals and care homes.

READ ALSO: Ba.4 and Ba.5 Covid variants detected in Austria: What you need to know

In Vienna, on the other hand, the rules are stricter.

Visitors and workers need to have the 3G proof plus a negative PCR test. However, the city has dropped 2G rules for gastronomy and nightclubs – the only places where it was still required to show proof of vaccination or recovery.

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