UPDATED: What is Austria’s 5-stage Covid restrictions plan?

The different systems to measure the risk and spread of Covid in Austria can be complicated to understand, so here's a look at how they work.

Woman wears FFP2 face mask in clothes shop
From level 1, FFP2 masks are mandatory for unvaccinated people and recommended for others in all retail stores. Photo: Arturo Rey/Unsplash

Austria uses two different Covid classifications; a traffic light based risk assessment and a five-step plan for restrictions in society, which was updated on Friday, October 22nd.

What is the traffic light system?

The first is the so-called ‘traffic light’ risk classification. This system is used at the regional level and is updated each week, with the regions given a different risk classification corresponding to a colour: ‘very low risk’ is light green; ‘low risk’ is yellow-green; ‘medium risk’ is yellow; ‘high risk’ is orange, and ‘very high risk’ is red.

The traffic light system is based on the spread of infection and incidence rate. Although individuals are encouraged to adjust their behaviour based on these risk classifications and authorities can use them to inform measures, the classification does not directly link to different measures. 

READ MORE: What is Austria’s traffic light system?

Localised lockdown measures – i.e. stricter rules in different municipalities and regions – can be put in place as a result of Austria’s traffic light system. 

Broader measures put in place over a wider geographic area are according to the five-level classification laid out below. 

What is Austria’s new five-step Covid plan?

The levels 1-5 are measured differently, based on the burden on the healthcare sector and rate of hospitalisation, and they directly trigger different measures being introduced. Each set of measures comes into force immediately after a certain level of ICU bed occupancy is exceeded.

Previously, there were only three risk levels in the plan, but the government added two new levels in late October. Here’s what happens at each level.

Level 1: More than 200 occupied ICU beds (10 percent of capacity)

At this level, proof of 3G (vaccination, recovery or a negative test) is required for events for more than 25 people instead of more than 100, and in theatres, cinemas and similar venues.

In all areas that require 3G, antigen tests are only valid for 24 hours.

In evening dining venues and bars, a 2.5G rule is in place, meaning antigen tests are not accepted for entry and you need to show proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours.

At this level, mask recommendations are also tightened. FFP2 masks are mandatory in places which previously required only a normal face covering, such as at supermarkets and on public transport. Unvaccinated people must wear FFP2 masks in all retail venues and indoor cultural venues like museums, galleries and libraries.

Level 2: More than 300 occupied ICU beds (15 percent of capacity)

At this level, evening dining and bars as well as events for more than 500 people and without assigned seating will only be accessible with proof of 2G (vaccination or recovery, but not a negative test).

In addition, antigen tests performed at home will no longer be considered valid proof for the areas which require 3G.

Level 3: More than 400 occupied ICU beds (20 percent of capacity)

This level was updated on October 23rd. If level 3 is reached, a 2.5G rule (proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative PCR test but no antigen tests) will be introduced at all locations where a 3G rule was in place under level 2.

Note that individual regions have the possibility to introduce stricter measures if deemed necessary. Vienna has effectively been implementing these national level 3 regulations since earlier in the autumn, because Vienna uses its own risk level classification in addition to the national one.

READ ALSO: What are the Covid-19 rules and restrictions in Vienna now?

Level 4 : More than 500 occupied ICU beds (25 percent of capacity) 

Austria is entering level 4 as of November 8th, with ICU capacity expected to pass 25 percent during that week.

At this level, a 2G rule (vaccination or recovery only) is in effect for restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons, and events for over 25 people.

FFP2 masks are required in all retail venues as well as libraries and museums.

Read more about the changes from November 8th at the link below:

Level 5: More than 600 occupied ICU beds (30 percent of capacity)

At this level, the government would implement a lockdown for unvaccinated people who would only be permitted to leave home for valid reasons.

This last level is introduced if the ICU occupancy rate exceeds 600 ICU beds (or 30 per cent occupancy).

The government is still working out the exact details of how restrictions would work at level 5.

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Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria's autumn Covid-19 plan includes a fourth Covid-19 dose to all those older than 12 and the Health Ministry doesn't rule out further measures, especially a return of the mask mandate.

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria’s Health Ministry and the country’s National Immunisation Panel (NIG) have recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population ahead of autumn.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) and physician Herwig Kollaritsch of the Immunisation Panel have requested people take the vaccination before the cold months, reiterating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protects against more severe courses of the disease.

“You can do a lot before autumn. Don’t wait until the numbers rise. Get vaccinated, take the booster shots”, Kollaritsch said in a press conference this Wednesday, August 31st.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The previous recommendation was only for people older than 60 or those in risk groups. “After there was already the booster recommendation for the vulnerable and over 60-year-olds over the summer, all other groups are to get a booster in the coming weeks,” the health minister said.

Only 58.9 percent of the population is currently sufficiently vaccinated, as per the recommendation of the National Immunisation Panel (NIG) – which for the majority of the population is three doses – or if they’ve had Covid then two doses and a recent recovered status.

New measures ahead of autumn

The health minister stopped short of announcing new Covid-19 measures for autumn.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country back in May, Rauch had said the suspension would be “temporary” and masks were likely to return after summer, depending on the pandemic, particularly on hospitalisation numbers.

Currently, masks are obligatory in the health sector and on public transport in Vienna.

“We evaluate the situation weekly by talking with the hospital heads in the states. We have a very good view of the Covid-19 data, and we don’t rule out bringing measures back in the future”, he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

He added: “It is likely that in the autumn, compulsory masks will again be useful and necessary in certain areas such as public transport or supermarkets,”.

For now, though, the minister said he recommends people to get vaccinated, wear masks where social distancing is not possible, and get tested regularly – even if those measures are not mandatory.

When should you get vaccinated?

The fourth vaccination should come a minimum of four months after the third one (or after a Covid-19 infection) but not after six months of the third dose (regardless of whether or not the person has had an infection after the last vaccine), according to the NIG.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Which Austrian states will allow Covid-infected teachers in classrooms?

For children between five and eleven years of age, the basic immunisation – which consists of three vaccinations – should be completed by the start of school at the latest; no booster vaccination is currently recommended in this age group.

Austria expects vaccines adapted to the omicron variant to arrive in the country before the end of September, the health minister said.