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COVID-19

Covid-19 in Austria: Follow the latest developments as they happen

Catch up on the latest Covid-19 news and current statistics in The Local's roundup as they happen throughout the week.

Covid vaccine
Medical personnel is given the Pfizer-Biontech Covid-19 corona virus vaccine at the Favoriten Clinic in Vienna, Austria, on December 27, 2020 on the occasion of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 corona virus vaccine rollout. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / various sources / AFP)

Overview of the Covid-19 situation in Austria

As of December 28th the 7-day incidence rate (new infections per 100,000 people) was 166.9. Vorarlberg (262.3) has the highest incidence, followed by Tyrol (256.4), while Upper Austria (124.2) and Burgenland (129.4) have the lowest rates.

A total of 36,641 people in Austria are currently positive for Covid-19 as of December 28th, with 826 people being treated for the disease in hospital outside ICUs, according to AGES. An additional 383 Covid patients are currently in intensive care.

A total of 6,597,388 people (73.86 percent of the total population) have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to the Health Ministry, and 6,290,865  (70.43 percent) have a valid vaccine pass as of December 27th.

Wednesday, December 22nd

Please note: We will be signing off this blog for the holiday season and returning on January 3rd. We will still be covering the news in Austria, so please sign up to The Local’s newsletter to keep receiving the latest updates.

The good news for today is that Austria has reached a 70 percent rate of full vaccination. That brings it above the EU average and the UK, though it has required a widespread 2G rule, lockdown for unvaccinated people, a planned vaccine mandate and early offering of vaccines to under-12s to reach this rate.

Four new countries have been added to Austria’s virus variant list, making travel to Austria harder. They are: Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK. Read more about the rule change here.

And other changes were announced in response to the Omicron spread, namely a 10pm curfew for gastronomy including on New Year’s Eve, and tighter restrictions on events. You can catch up on that rule change here.

The Austrian Hotel Association (ÖHV) reports there has been a wave of cancellations after Austria on Monday began requiring travellers to show a negative PCR test in addition to 2G proof unless they had received a vaccine booster.

Austria’s regions have announced plans to expand testing options over the holidays, including in Salzburg which has reversed a recent plan to close test sites for five days over Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21st

By the end of November, more than half (55 percent) of schoolchildren aged over 12 in Austria had either received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine or one dose in addition to recovery, data published by Statistics Austria shows. For children between five and 11 years old, vaccination was not approved until the end of November, so there is no nationwide data on this yet.

A Covid meeting tomorrow between national and regional leaders and scientific experts will focus on the risk posed by the Omicron variant.

Omicron cases in Vienna have roughly tripled in just four days to reach 266, according to the latest figures shared by city authorities.

According to a report in the Tiroler Tageszeitung, Austria is planning to add the UK, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands to the list of virus variant areas from Friday. This would mean that travel from these countries is only permitted for certain purposes (Austrian residents would be allowed to travel) and a pre-travel clearance form and quarantine would be needed in most cases. The reports have not been confirmed by the Ministry of Health.

Monday, December 20th

As of today, only travellers with proof of 2G (vaccination or recovery) will be allowed to enter Austria, and in addition, people who have not received three doses of the vaccine will need to either show a negative PCR test on entry or self-isolate on arrival until they can show a negative PCR test result. Read more on the new travel rules by clicking here.

Vienna becomes the final Austrian region to remove lockdown rules today as restaurants and hotels re-open.

People who have had contact with someone suspected of having the Omicron variant can now end their quarantine after five days with a negative PCR test; otherwise, they must quarantine for a full ten days.

How does Austria compare to its neighbours?

The chart below from Our World in Data shows how the number of reported daily Covid cases in Austria compares to those in neighbouring countries.

Note that case numbers depend on rates of testing as well as the prevalence of the virus, so this is not necessarily a true comparison of the spread of the virus in each country.

Do you have a question about Covid-19 in Austria? Contact our editorial team at [email protected] and they will get back to you and do their best to help.

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ECONOMY

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

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

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The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The Covid-19 measures for the start of the Austrian school year

There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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