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EXPLAINED: How exactly does Austria’s new rule for masks outdoors work?

As of January 11th, Austria's FFP2 mask mandate is extended to cover some outdoor areas. Here's a close look at where you do and don't have to wear the mask.

A sign informs people to cover mouth and nose with an FFP2 mask
A sign informs people to cover mouth and nose with an FFP2 mask. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

FFP2 masks are already required on public transport (including at stops and stations), in all shops and other indoor areas including hairdressers, museums, workplaces and at events for example.

The change extending this to outdoor spaces comes into effect from January 11th. 

This is not be a blanket rule to cover all outdoor public spaces, but rather those where a two-metre distance cannot be kept from people from other households.

“Whenever I am encountering people, I must wear a mask,” Chancellor Karl Nehammer said at the press conference announcing the measures. 

However, the final text of the law appears to be slightly more lenient. 

Situations where the two-metre distance is only broken for a short amount of time, for example when passing someone on a pavement, are excluded from the rule. 

It applies for example in queues, at markets or other events, or in crowded areas. Ministers and regional officials have said that police will enforce the rules, with a focus on areas known to experience crowding, but that the focus will be on explaining the rules to people.

The requirement to wear a mask outdoors in these situations is initially in place until January 20th.

EXPLAINED: What are the Covid-19 rules in Austria now?

Regions will also have the authority to introduce mask mandates in particularly crowded outdoor areas locally. This was also the case last year, when Vienna introduced such a mandate along the Danube Canal, a popular spot for walking and visiting the bars and restaurants along its banks.

At the moment for most adults, only FFP2 masks can be worn, though at different points in the pandemic Austria has relaxed rules slightly to allow cloth or surgical face masks. For children aged under 7, no mask is required, and for children aged under 14 and pregnant women a cloth or surgical face mask may be worn as an alternative to FFP2 masks.

LEARN MORE: Where to find the latest Covid-19 information for your region of Austria

FFP2 masks offer better protection against the coronavirus and other pathogens than the cloth or surgical equivalents, with a higher proportion of aerosols filtered out. They are also generally easier to fit over both mouth and nose, although getting a well-fitting mask is still important.

As well as the change to the mask mandate, Austria’s government on Thursday also announced shorter quarantines for contacts of positive Covid cases, and 2G checks to be required in shops.

Like many other countries across Europe, Austria is currently tightening its Covid measures in response to the Omicron wave of Covid-19. Italy for example made face masks compulsory in outdoor spaces from late December.

“We will do everything we can to avoid another lockdown,” Chancellor Nehammer said on Thursday. 

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Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were ‘unconstitutional’

Austria's constitutional court found that banning unvaccinated people from going to hairdressers or cultural institutions was unconstitutional

Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were 'unconstitutional'

The Constitutional Court (VfGH) has found a regulation which stopped people from going to hairdressers in the second lockdown for the unvaccinated was unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal.

However, the Court of Justice did confirm it was admissible to distinguish between people with and without 2G evidence (proof they had recovered from or been vaccinated against Covid-19), meaning the lockdown for the unvaccinated was itself legal.

READ ALSO: Four options: These are Austria’s autumn Covid lockdown plans

As there were exceptions to the lockdown, allowing people without vaccinations to leave their homes to “cover the necessary basic needs of daily life”, this should have included trips to the hairdressers as part of these “basic needs” on a long term, the court ruled.

It clarified that the rules were at first supposed to last for 10 days, but as the lockdown got extended several times, lasting a total of 11 weeks, the “basic needs” evolved and should have included hairdresser visits.

According to the Constitutional Court, it was also illegal for the government to ban unvaccinated people from entering cultural institutions in autumn 2021.

In this case, the reason was that people were still allowed to go to church and other places of religion, which the court found was “in violation of equality”.

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

The court found the ban on entering sports facilities ordered by the Minister of Health during the first lockdown in March and April 2020 was also unlawful, as there was not sufficient justification, broadcaster ORF reported.

Strict Covid-19 measures

Austria was one of the countries which imposed several lockdown periods during the pandemic, as The Local reported. While some were aimed at the entire population, more recently, only those who didn’t get vaccinated against Covid-19 were prevented from going out of their homes without a justification (such as grocery shopping or emergencies).

The country had also imposed a Covid-19 vaccination mandate, but that was scrapped after new variants of the virus evolved into less severe cases of the disease, the government said.

Currently, there are few coronavirus restrictions in place. You can check out all the measures across Austria here.