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COVID-19

Five Austrian regions ease Covid restrictions ahead of Christmas

Upper Austria ends its regional lockdown today, while four other regions see the re-opening of restaurants, hotels and cafes.

Closed restaurant
Restaurants and hotels re-open in five regions today. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Upper Austria chose to keep a full lockdown in place for almost a week longer than the rest of the country, but its regional restrictions are lifted today, meaning that it is once again possible to meet people from other households socially, go to shops, restaurants, and events.

In Carinthia, Lower Austria, Salzburg and Styria, re-opening has taken place gradually, with non-essential retail, culture and events opened last week and restaurants and hotels following suit today.

The regions of Vorarlberg, Tyrol and Burgenland re-opened all parts of society allowed under national law this week, leaving only Vienna with hotels and restaurants closed until December 20th.

Even after the general lockdown ended, nationwide the rules in place are still stricter than they were before the lockdown.

READ ALSO: What are the current Covid rules in Austria?

Across the whole country, so-called night gastronomy (nightclubs, pubs and bars) remains completely closed until at least January. And for the rest of the gastronomy sector and events, there is an early closing time of 11pm.

In addition, FFP2 masks are required in addition to the 2G requirement at restaurants (except when seated), workplaces, shops, and services requiring close physical contact such as hairdressers.

In addition, lockdown remains in place for people aged over 12 without proof of 2G (a valid Covid vaccine pass or recent recovery from the virus), meaning people in that category — more than one million nationwide — cannot enter shops, restaurants, or leave their homes other than for essential purposes including exercise and food shopping.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein presented an update on Covid measures for the Christmas and New Year period on Friday morning. We will have an update on these changes for you shortly on The Local Austria.

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COVID-19 STATS

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

As the number of Covid-19 infections and related hospitalisations rises in Austria, many are asking for new measures to be adopted, especially a mask mandate.

UPDATED: Will Austria bring back face mask mandate to battle rising Covid cases?

Austria has seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks, with 2,428 people currently hospitalised with the disease, including 118 in intensive care (ICU).

One month ago, just 871 people were being treated in hospital with an additional 47 people in ICU.

The Austrian Federal Government has now said they will make a decision on bringing back the mask mandate by October 23rd. Last week, the National Covid Crisis Coordination (GECKO) recommended wearing FFP2 masks.

According to ORF, the mask mandate could return for public indoor spaces, public transport and in the gastronomy sector. The Austrian Trade Association has already rejected the suggestion saying it would be the “last straw” for employees as the industry struggles with staff shortages.

What are the Covid-19 experts predicting for the autumn and winter season?

The latest report from the Covid prognosis consortium in Austria predicts a rise in hospitalisations in October. 

In a “worst case” scenario, as many as 3,428 people who tested positive would need a hospital bed on October 19th, the latest forecast said. A “further significant increase in hospitalisation is to be expected, with the Covid population in the ICU area remaining almost unchanged”, the experts summarised.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

In comparison, last autumn, the country was on an Austria-wide lockdown and on November 28th, there were 2,767 infected persons hospitalised.

However, the experts said there is a very high proportion of incidental findings among hospitalised patients. Only around 22 percent of those presently hospitalised were admitted with Covid-19 symptoms. In the intensive care unit, this proportion was only 12 percent – most people go to the hospital for other reasons and find they test positive for the coronavirus.

Calls for pandemic-containment measures

Still, the consortium warned about staff shortages in hospitals. “The increased infection pressure is currently also translating into above-average unplanned staff absences”, it wrote.

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

In view of the situation in the hospitals, experts are calling for the reintroduction of mandatory masks.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Medical University of Innsbruck criticised the government, saying authorities were once again “too late” to take measures.

“We are now at the last push to reintroduce compulsory masks indoors so that the omicron wave from spring is not repeated,” the virologist told Kurier.

“How much longer to watch Covid go through the roof? Winter is still long, and hospitals are getting crowded with decreasing staff and increasing occupancy. Mask up! #CovidIsntOver,” Thomas Czypionka, Head of IHS Health Economics and Health Policy of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), said on Twitter.

Currently, people in Austria only need to wear masks in the health sector area, such as in hospitals and elderly care homes. However, the capital Vienna has stricter rules, imposing a mask mandate on public transport.

Only in a ‘state of emergency’

Speaking to public broadcaster ORF, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) ruled out the immediate introduction of a mask mandate.

He said stricter rules would only be imposed if the situation in hospitals “escalates, becomes threatening, and a state of emergency occurs”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria

At the same time, he reiterated that the pandemic is not over and that when the government removed the mask mandate, it also announced the rules could be brought back in autumn.

“When the mask requirement was abolished in grocery stores and public transport in the spring, I already said: If it should become necessary again in the autumn, the general mask requirement will be reintroduced there”, he said.

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