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COVID-19

EXPLAINED: How will Austria’s Covid rules change in November?

A new Covid ordinance coming into effect in November brings changes for the workplace, winter tourism, and face mask rules.

Salzburg and mountains in winter
New rules are on the way for the workplace, winter tourism and face masks. Photo: Marina Ahammer/Unsplash

3G in the workplace

Starting from November 1st, anyone who cannot rule out coming into contact with other people at their workplace will need to show proof of 3G (vaccination, recovery or negative test) in order to enter.

“Compulsory 3G in the workplace is an important step in the fight against the pandemic. It ensures better protection in the place where people have to go every day and spend a large part of their day, and it also creates additional planning and legal security for employers” said Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein.

Up until November 14th, ‘transition period’ rules will apply, meaning that if you do not have 3G proof you may still enter but must wear an FFP2 mask. See the article below for further details.

Changes to mask regulations

Employees in hospitals, nursing homes and care homes for the elderly will still need to wear face masks in addition to providing proof of 3G. The same applies to visitors.

But in other workplaces, employees who show proof of 3G will no longer need to wear masks. This means that staff in supermarkets for example will not need to wear them, and the change is made possible by the 3G requirement in workplaces. 

For customers and guests, there is no big change to mask rules. This means FFP2 masks will still be required in supermarkets, pharmacies and on public transport regardless of vaccination status, but not in areas where you need to show proof of 3G. In areas like non-essential retail and museums, either an FFP2 mask of proof of 3G will be required.

Winter tourism rules

Austria’s Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger summarized the ethos behind the regulations as “strict rules, safe winter”. 

Christmas markets are set to go ahead across the country, with a requirement for proof of 3G which will be regulated through random spot checks. This means that the market area will be clearly defined by a fence or tape, with staff checking people’s Covid passes.

Proof of 3G will also be mandatory in cable cars as of November 15th, except in situations where the cable car is being used as a means of public transport, for example by local residents.

Apres-ski venues and ‘night gastronomy’ (evening dining and drinking, such as pubs, clubs and bars) are covered by the same rules. These mean that at a level 1 situation, these can be accessed with proof of 3G; at level 2, rapid antigen self-tests are no longer accepted as 3G; and at level 3, the 2.5G rule applies (proof of vaccination, recovery or a PCR test only, not an antigen test, even if it was carried out by a professional).

Note that individual states have the power to introduce stricter rules at the regional level.

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COVID-19

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.

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