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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Austria's Covid cases are falling, minster makes further assurances about Russian gas supplies, and more news on Thursday.

Left-wing protesters marched against far-right groups in Vienna, Austria
Left-wing protesters marched against far-right groups in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday April 27, after the far right was blamed for attacking a refugee centre in Vienna (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

Austria’s Covid Traffic Light Commission downgrades risk level

Austria’s Covid Traffic Light Commission has downgraded all federal states to orange, which denotes “high risk”, apart from Burgenland, which remains red, the highest risk level. Infections are decreasing, but fewer tests are being carried out as well. 

The commission takes into account the number of Covid-19 cases, and also refers to data such as testing and the age and vaccination status of infected people to assess the risk level. 

Although the seven-day incidence is highest in Burgenland (745.2) and in Vienna (742.5), Vienna still has a lower risk factor than Tyrol (384.5) where far fewer tests are being carried out than in the capital.

Vorarlberg and Styria are almost in the yellow (medium risk) category, of below 50, with scores of  50.9 and 53 respectively.

Vorarlberg has also seen a dramatic drop in cases of 35 percent over the past 14 days. Broadcaster ORF reports tourists are once again bringing in new infections to Vienna, where five percent of new infections were attributed to visitors from outside the capital. 

Further reassurances by Energy Minister over Russian gas supplies to Austria

Austria’s Energy Minister  Leonore Gewessler (Greens) has made assurances that natural gas is still being supplied to Austria by Russia, after the country cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria.

Speaking to the Zib 2 programme on Wednesday evening, she said the main supply routes were operating “without restrictions”, and said there were no signs that Russia planned to stop gas to Austria. 

However, she also admitted she did not have a “crystal ball” and preparations were underway in case of the emergency scenario that gas supplies are cut.

If this were to happen, large companies would be the most affected, with households prioritised for gas.  

It could be necessary to introduce short term work once more and ​​there could be a rise in unemployment and an economic slump. Austria was already increasing its gas storage over the past few days.

The minister said Austria would start next winter with less dependence on gas than last year.

READ MORE: How Austria plans to secure enough energy for next winter

Around 64,400 refugees from Ukraine are now registered in Austria

Around 64,400 refugees from Ukraine are currently registered in Austria according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior. Austria’s refugee coordinator, Michael Takacs told the Ö1 morning journal that Austria is prepared to take in up to 200,000 people overall, but it is not possible to say at present how many refugees want to stay permanently.

He expects more Ukrainian people to come to Austria from Moldova.

Left wing protestors march in support of refugees

Left-wing protesters marched against far-right groups in Vienna, Austria on Wednesday April 27, after the members of the groups were blamed for attacking a refugee centre in Vienna.

As the Local reported on Tuesday, refugees from Ukraine were  left traumatised after around 20 masked far right extremists climbed onto the roof of the Ute-Bock-Hause accommodation block in Vienna’s Favoriten on Saturday morning and let off fireworks, before unfurling a large banner.

Austria’s pandemic laws extended until mid 2023

Austria’s Covid Measures Act has been extended until the middle of 2023, rather than expiring at the end of June. The extension was decided on Wednesday in the National Council – with only the opposition parties FPÖ and NEOS opposing the measure.

The law provides the legal basis for the restriction of gatherings or exit regulations and allows penalties to be enforced over violations of rules in order to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said it was necessary to extend the legislation as a precautionary measure in case there was another Covid surge in the autumn.

READ ALSO: Austria extends Covid regulations as experts warn of autumn resurgence

Legislation passed to stop illegal car tuning 

Legislation to stop people illegally modifying their cars was also passed. The amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act (KFG) means you can be fined up to 300 euros for manipulating your car engine to make explosive noises, and for driving styles such as rapid acceleration, abrupt braking and letting the vehicle rotate around its own axis when stationary, the Krone newspaper reports.

Germany has extended border controls with Austria due to migration concerns

The German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has extended border controls at the border with Austria for a further six months. A letter to the EU Commission confirming this was sent on April 14, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior told the German Press Agency on Wednesday.

The reason given was “migration events”. Although there are in theory no border controls within states which make up the Schengen zone, Germany has been monitoring the border with Austria since autumn 2015, when tens of thousands of refugees and other migrants made their way from Greece to Western Europe via the Balkan route.

As the Local reported on Wednesday, the ECJ recently ruled the border controls in Austria were no longer legal, although Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) said Austria would continue to rely on border controls “if necessary”. 

READ MORE: Austrian border controls ruled illegal

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

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

Covid cases on the rise, Austria's real estate market heats up, free month of travel for 'climate ticket' holders and more news from Austria on Thursday.

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

Covid cases go up due to new variants

The number of Covid-19 cases registered on Wednesdays have doubled, going from 3,400 last week to almost 7,000 this week. Testing has also decreased, meaning many cases will not be registered. There are currently 511 people in the hospitals, 34 of them in intensive care.

The Covid prognosis consortium believes that the omicron subvariant BA.4/BA.5 is “largely” responsible for the increase.  These variants are currently responsible for 30 percent of cases, up from 18 percent the week before.  It is expected the new variants will become dominant within the next week, further accelerating the growth of new infections, broacaster ORF reports. 

READ ALSO: Is Austria heading for a summer Covid wave and could face masks return?

Free month of train travel for ‘climate ticket’ holders

People who hold the newly introduced Klima (climate) ticket, which gives unlimited travel on public transport in Austria, will get an extra month free as an inflation busting measure. The promotion applies to new customers as well as to an extension of the public transport card. “Especially in times of high fuel prices, public transport is a climate-friendly and cost-saving alternative,” Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) said.

READ MORE: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

Austria’ epidemic act changed to replace Covid quarantine with ‘traffic light’ measures

Austria’s National Council has changed the Epidemic Act to reflect the changes to the pandemic brought by the omicron variant. In future, rather than making a quarantine necessary, the Minister of Health can instead impose traffic restrictions which prohibit people from taking part in certain activities, but do not require complete isolation. The far right FPÖ party fears that this measure could mean demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions would be banned.

It was also decided that the health authorities will in future be able to prioritize and restrict contact tracing at peak times, if the service threatens to becomes overwhelmed. In addition, the legal basis was created for the Minister of Health to be able to send a letter reminding people to get their booster vaccination against Covid-19.

Austria’s Covid Traffic light commission sends three states back into ‘medium risk’

The increasing number of infections in Austria are now reflected in the country’s coronavirus traffic light. Three federal states have slipped back into the medium-risk area. These are Vienna, Salzburg and Vorarlberg, which were given a yellow rating by the responsible commission because their risk number has risen above 25. The remaining countries remain in the green-yellow zone of low risk. The colours were set according to different criteria this week than the previous week, due to the new omicron calculations, testing numbers or test positivity scores are no longer reflected in the traffic light colour.

Slovenia to change its price cap on fuel

Refuelling cars in Slovenia will be more expensive at motorways from next week. The new government is abandoning the price cap introduced by the previous government a month ago and will introduce a two-tier pricing model next Tuesday. As a result, the fuel prices at the motorway filling stations will now reflect market values, while away from motorways, they are regulated by the state determining the margins. The new regulation will apply for twelve months.

Austria’s real estate market is heating up

Austria’s housing market is getting overheated according to the Austrian National Bank (OeNB). For around ten years, real estate prices have risen much faster than household incomes. Nonetheless, more and more people are taking out mortgages, particularly in the past year

“For the sixth quarter in a row, prices have risen above the 10 percent mark. This development points in the completely wrong direction,” said Birgit Niessner, Director of the OeNB’s Economics Department, Der Standard newspaper reports. However, mitigating factors include Austria’s strong rental market, low interest rates and households with high incomes. 

New rules around mortgages are expected to be unveiled in July. It will mean borrowers must raise 20 percent of the sum from their own funds. The loan installment must not exceed 40 percent of the net household income, and the loan term should be limited to a maximum of 35 years.

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