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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Every weekday, The Local brings you an English-language summary of the news you need to know in Austria.

Antigen test
A rapid antigen test showing a positive result for Covid. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP

How testing could change in Austria

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein has advocated a return to the use of at-home antigen tests if the number of new Covid cases continues to rise sharply and it is no longer possible to offer free PCR tests for all.

Crisis committee Gecko suggested such a change last week, to prioritise offering PCR tests for key workers such as those in hospitals and schools.

Mückstein told Austrian media that the government was discussing these possible changes with Gecko, which could come into effect as early as this week.

Property prices soar in Austria’s ski regions

The pandemic has seen an increased interest in second homes in Austria’s holiday areas, with a continued clear impact on prices.

In 15 popular ski areas in Austria, the prices for apartments rose by an average of 12 percent from €6700 to €7500 euros per square metre in 2021, according to data analysis by the real estate portal ImmoScout24 cited by ORF.

Kitzbühel is the most expensive place to live, where prices rose by 24 percent to reach €13,979 per square metre.

Austria’s Stopp Corona app comes to an end

The Ministry of Health is ending its funding for the Stopp Corona app, as Die Presse was first to report.

The app was a way to inform recent contacts of a Covid infection, which was used around 17,000 times, but now Austria is focusing on other tools such as its Green Pass.

Updated quarantine rules for Vienna kindergartens

From today, new rules about Covid quarantines in Vienna’s kindergartens come into effect, meaning they only need to close after two confirmed Covid cases instead of one.

More and more Austrian companies are only hiring fully vaccinated employees

“We see that more and more companies want their employees to be vaccinated for safety reasons,” said Austrian Labour Minister Martin Kocher at a press conference on Tuesday.

By federal law, 3G (proof of either vaccination, recovery from Covid or regular negative tests) is required for employees in workplaces where they can’t rule out close contact with others (excluding a few jobs such as truck drivers). The government has said this will remain the case even after the vaccine mandate comes into effect in February, but individual companies can choose to go a step further and require 2G.

Vienna tops global travel lists for 2022

If you’re reading this you probably already know the charms of the Austrian capital, and it’s being recognised in global travel lists.

The UK’s Independent named it first in its list of the best cities to visit this year, and Vienna also made Bloomberg’s ‘Where to go in 2022’ list. Bloomberg invited readers to “go on a cookie crawl” and hailed the capital as a “small, walkable gem”. 

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Traffic jams and packed trains warning, concerns over gas, no subway for Graz and more news on Wednesday.

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Packed trains and traffic jams expected in coming days

Trains and roads in Austria are expected to be packed over the coming days as people head off on their holidays. The ÖBB train website warns people should make a reservation on trains before travelling, and says it will provide up to 10,000 additional seats on Ascension Day, Pentecost and Corpus Christi.

The number of train travellers in Austria has increased sharply due to the waning of the pandemic, the Klima ticket and the high cost of petrol, broadcaster ORF reports. 

According to the Austrian motorist club ÖAMTC, drivers can expect “heavy traffic” over the long weekend. 

Graz decides against subway

The city of Graz has finally decided against building a subway, but has instead decided to build two new S-Bahns instead and a tunnel through the city centre, it was revealed on Tuesday. Experts spent a year examining five concepts before coming up with the decision. The subway was the most expensive option, and would have cost more than 3.5 billion euros, whereas the two S-Bahn tunnel projects are significantly cheaper, costing  2 .2 billion euros, broadcaster ORF reports. 

Experts weigh in over mask requirement

As The Local reported on Tuesday, masks will no longer be required in Austria’s public transport and essential retail from the beginning of June. As usual, Vienna will keep stricter rules in place than the rest of the country, and require masks on public transport. However, experts meeting in Vienna from the research platform “Covid-19 Future Operations” on Tuesday called for the government to be prepared for the “worst case scenario” in the autumn and winter. 

Some experts were critical of the relaxed rules in place from June, with virologist Dorothea van Laer saying she would have kept the mask requirement in pharmacies and in essential shops in order to be able to protect vulnerable groups, broadcaster ORF reports.

READ MORE: 

Concerns over emergency plans for gas

Businesses are raising concerns that no emergency plans are in place in the event Russia stops delivering gas to Austria. Austria is one of the most dependent countries on Russian gas in the EU. Der Standard reports Voestalpine, a large steel company based in Linz, has had only “sporadic” talks with the government about the possible crisis. Katharina Koßdorff, Managing Director of the Food Industry Association says there are no “concrete emergency plans” for this scenario, adding the Austrian food industry is almost 100 percent reliant on Russian gas. 

Austria has started to buy gas for its strategic reserve. On Monday the government spent almost one billion euros on 7.7 terawatt hours (TWh) of gas. Leonore Gewessler’s climate ministry, which is responsible for energy, said it was unclear where the gas comes from, as there are no proofs of origin on the gas market. It can be assumed that Russian gas makes up part of what has been purchased, according to a spokesman for Gewessler (Greens).

READ MORE: REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply

Van der Bellen speaks out over citizenship and Austria’s military

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen has told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper he believes in making it easier to become naturalized as an Austrian. In the interview he said the hurdles for obtaining citizenship were currently “too high”. He has also given an interview to Der Standard in which he says Austria should spend more on its army and increase the number of diplomats, though he draws the line at joining NATO, arguing Austria does not need to be so “bellicose”.

Van der Bellen has gathered further support for his aim to be re-elected in the autumn from the ÖVP government team. Although the People’s Party does not officially recommend his election, State Secretary Florian Tursky (ÖVP)  has said he would support his fellow Tyrolean. However, Van der Bellen will face competition from the head of Austria’s Beer Party Dominik Wlazny, who also goes by the name of his alter ego, Marco Pogo, as well as candidates from the anti-vaccination MFG party and the far right FPÖ. 

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