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

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

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 20, 2021 demonstrators wave Austrian flags with the emblem turned upside down during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party FPOe against the measures taken to curb the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, at Heldenplatz square in front of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. - Austria's parliament on January 20, 2022 approved making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for adults from next month, becoming the first European country to do so despite a wave of protests opposing the measure. Tens of thousands have demonstrated against mandatory vaccination in regular weekend rallies since the measure was announced in November in a bid to drive up the country's vaccination rate. (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

Austria passes vaccine mandate

As expected, Austria’s parliament passed a law making vaccination compulsory for adults yesterday evening.

The overwhelming majority of MPs (137 out of 170) from all parties voted in favour of the law, with the leaders of the opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the liberal NEOS lending their backing to the centre right-green coalition.

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein told MPs the law was “urgently needed”.

The far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) opposed the law as expected, with leader Herbert Kickl saying the law was “health communism” and an “attack” on the population.

Austrian far-right leader could face prosecution over mask rules

Also in yesterday’s parliamentary session, the National Council extradited far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Herbert Kickl, paving the way for him to face investigation over an alleged violation of the legal requirement to wear a mask at demonstrations.

Vienna legal authorities had to ask the National Council for approval to begin their investigation, because of parliamentary immunity — but a majority found there was no connection to his political activities. It’s the second time Kickl has faced investigation for this kind of case. 

Another Covid record for Austria

For the first time, more than 200,000 people in Austria have a current confirmed Covid infection.

Thursday is the day for the weekly updates from Austria’s Covid Commission. We don’t expect a change in the ‘traffic light’ risk assessment any time soon, as the whole country is currently classified ‘red’ or very high risk due to the Omicron wave.

But the Commission also issues weekly recommendations, and yesterday they warned that an increase in occupancy of hospital beds could pose problems, even if intensive care units do not get overloaded.

The Commission said that if Covid cases reach a level of eight percent of standard care beds, this could start to cause difficulties, especially if the Omicron wave also leads to staff shortages.

Carinthia pushed to testing limits

The region of Carinthia recorded over 1,000 Covid cases in 24 hours for the first time, and the severity of the wave has pushed testing capacity in the western region to its limits.

As a result, it will no longer be possible to ‘test out’ of quarantine as a contact person after five days (freitesten in German). People who previously had the option to end quarantine after five days with a negative test will instead have to observe a full ten-day quarantine, with some exceptions for people working in critical infrastructure such as healthcare workers.

Delays in Austria’s Covid reporting

Austria’s Health and Interior Ministries still haven’t reported their official Covid case numbers for Thursday, and have told media they expect further delays in the coming days.

The reporting systems are up and running without disruption, but the high number of cases means that cleaning up the data to remove errors and duplicate results (for example, the same person performing two tests) is a more complex task.

In our daily Covid blog, we use the figures provided by AGES and we note which day the data was last reported.

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

Mask rules being discussed with a possible relaxation on the way, Ibiza affair remembered, snake found in kindergarten sandpit and more news on Wednesday.

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

Austria’s National Council meets to discuss masks, the extension of pandemic laws and deficit 

Austria’s National Council will meet today (Wednesday) and Thursday. The new Minister of Agriculture Norbert Totschnig (ÖVP) is also expected to be sworn in this morning, having missed out on the ceremony due to a Covid infection last week. 

One item on the agenda is Austria’s mask rules. The council will discuss whether to extend the rules requiring masks to be worn in supermarkets, hospitals and banks over the summer. The current mask rules expire on July 8th. This law affects around 130,000 employees who work in retail. 

READ MORE: Austria to keep masks only in essential places from April 17th

The council will also extend laws aimed at countering the Covid pandemic, by ensuring the regulations in the Epidemics Act stay in place until June next year. This means the government will continue to have the right to impose exit restrictions from local epidemic areas and register people entering Austria. If necessary, it will still be possible for the government to make catering establishments and event organisers to collect the contact details of their guests.

Austria’s deficit will increase by 6.5 billion euros to 19.1 billion euros due to the effects of the war in Ukraine. Extra money will be spent on a national strategic gas reserve, energy relief packages and aid measures for displaced Ukrainians, while revenue is expected to fall due to lower economic growth, broadcaster ORF reports. 

Chancellor’s greeting to his party hints at further relaxation of Covid measures

Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) greeted his party on Saturday, saying: “So many in such a small room also means: so many viruses, but now we don’t care anymore.” He has since apologised and said he is aware the pandemic is still ongoing, according to the Kronen Zeitung newspaper. However, all entry rules to Austria were abolished on Monday, and the National Council will discuss mask wearing in supermarkets, banks and hospitals today (Wednesday). 

Gecko Chairwoman and Chief Medical Officer Katharina Reich has told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper that she believes masks should stay in essential retail. However, virologist Dorothee von Laer told the Kurier she considers dropping the mask requirement in July to be “justifiable”.

‘Ibiza scandal’ vice chancellor ‘regrets’ resignation 

The ex-FPÖ leader and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who left politics in disgrace following the Ibiza affair, which also led to the downfall of Austria’s coalition government, now says he regrets his resignation. Strache gave an interview with Puls 24 in the Ibizan villa which was the scene of the scandal on the three year anniversary of the event, in which he described himself as the victim of a political assassination. 

The scandal blew up after Strache was secretly filmed meeting the supposed niece of a Russian oligarch in an Ibizan villa. During the video Strache spoke of investing in one of Austria’s most popular newspapers, the Kronen Zeitung and getting rid of some of its journalists. He also promised state contracts in return for help with  FPÖ political campaigns. After excerpts of the video were published in May 2019, Strache retired as a politician. He now says this resignation was “probably my biggest mistake”.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the scandal which continues to grip Austrian politics

Survey shows almost half of job seekers in Austria want to work from home 

A survey of 1,000 visitors to the job portal found that around 47 percent would not be interested in a job which offered no flexibility around working from home. According to the survey, 63 percent have had good or very good experiences with flexible working. While working from home has increased during the pandemic, it is not  yet an established practice in all companies. 

For employees, home working means greater flexibility and can have a positive impact on work-life balance, the Kronen Zeitung newspaper reports. 

Snake found in kindergarten sandpit

Summer must be on the way, because yet another snake has been discovered hiding in Austria, not in a toilet this time, but in a kindergarten sandpit. 

Staff at a kindergarten in Pasching, Upper Austria called the ICARA animal rescue service out on Tuesday afternoon because there was a dice snake about 30 centimetres long hiding in the children’s sandpit. The snake was given treatment for a slight injury and then released, the Kronen Zeitung reports.

READ MORE: Why do snakes keep appearing in Austrian toilets?