Austria’s nationwide lockdown to end this weekend – but what comes next?

It's official: Chancellor Karl Nehammer has confirmed that the last day of Austria's general lockdown will be December 11th, though it will continue for anyone without proof of vaccination or recovery.

Vienna in lockdown
Peopele walk past Hofburg palace at Michaeler square in Vienna, Austria on November 22, 2021. - Austria has entered a nationwide lockdown in an effort to contain spiraling coronavirus infections. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

This is in line with what Nehammer’s predecessor Alexander Schallenberg said when he first announced the lockdown, saying it would last a “maximum” of 20 days. You might see three different dates used to talk about the end of the lockdown: Saturday, December 11th is the last day the measures will apply meaning the 12th is the first day without them, but due to Austria’s Sunday closing laws December 13th has also been called the ‘re-opening’ day.

But there was some scepticism the original timeframe would be kept to, particularly after previous lockdowns have been extended.

Lockdowns are such a stringent measure that under Austrian law they can only be introduced for ten days at a time, after which the government has to extend them based on a review.

IN PICTURES: Life in Vienna under new Austrian lockdown

So what next?

When the nationwide general lockdown is lifted, as things stand, Austria is set to keep lockdown rules in place for unvaccinated people only. This has been in place since November 15th, and means that proof of 2G (vaccination or recovery from Covid) is required to leave home for non-essential reasons, or to access non-essential businesses including many retail stores and restaurants.

For people with proof of 2G, Nehammer said discussions were still underway on exactly what measures would apply, so it may not be a complete return to the situation before the lockdown. This could mean anything from an evening curfew to extended 2G rules or mask mandates, or even some parts of society continuing to remain shut by law. The details will be hashed out during talks between the government, opposition parties, regional leaders and relevant experts over the next few days.

Regions may also introduce their own measures going beyond those in place nationally. Upper Austria has already said it will have a full lockdown in place until December 17th, about a week longer than the national lockdown, due to the severity of the Covid situation in the region. 

Vienna’s mayor also shared details for the roadmap in the capital region, which will continue to have more stringent measures than those applicable nationwide. In Vienna, the following services are set to open from December 13th: retail, Christmas markets (with take-away only for food and drink), culture and sport, and services with close physical contact (like hairdressers and beauty salons). Gastronomy (restaurants and cafes) and hotels will not re-open until a week later on the 20th. It is still not certain when night gastronomy (pubs, bars and clubs) will re-open.

READ ALSO: What’s the latest on Austria’s compulsory vaccine plan?

The Covid incidence rate has fallen sharply during the lockdown, but regional differences remain and the situation is still more severe in the west than the east of the country.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care nationwide is also high at over 600, but most experts expect this to drop towards the middle of the month since there is usually a lag of two to three weeks before changes in incidence rates are reflected in intensive care admissions.

The far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) have called for a demonstration against Austria’s Covid restrictions on Saturday in central Vienna, where thousands of protestors have been gathering weekly.

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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.