‘Entry tests’: What is Austria’s testing plan to allow bars and restaurants to open?

Austria is considering a scheme similar to that used for hairdressers, where visiting outdoor bars and restaurants can be possible with a negative coronavirus test. How would this look in practice?

'Entry tests': What is Austria’s testing plan to allow bars and restaurants to open?
Could beer gardens look a little less lonely in Austria soon? Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

At a meeting on Friday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the country was considering allowing people with evidence of a negative coronavirus test to visit bars and restaurants again from March. 

The scheme, similar to that used for hairdressers and tattoo parlours in Austria, would allow bars and restaurants to open again. 

Kurz said the gradual reopening – including of bars and restaurants – would see Austria “relying heavily on the testing system in order to make more freedom possible”.

READ MORE: Will testing allow bars and restaurants to open again in Austria from March? 

The Chancellor said the hospitality industry now had until March 1st to present a plan for how such a scheme should operate. 

A decision will be made on March 1st, from which bars and restaurants could again be allowed to open. 

What would this ‘entry testing’ plan look like? 

While it is a novel idea as a way to allow a gradual return to normal, Austrians do not need to look very far to see how such a plan might work. 

Austrians have been allowed to visit hairdressers and other ‘body hugging services’ like tattoo parlours and cosmetic services since February 8th. 

In order to do so, they need to bring a negative coronavirus test which is less than 48 hours old. 

EXPLAINED: What is Austria's compulsory testing requirement for visiting hairdressers? 

Like this scheme, Austrians wanting to visit bars or restaurants would need to provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test to enter. 

Haven’t I heard of this before? 

In January, Austrian state governors’ floated a plan to set up a system whereby evidence of a negative test will be shown on a person’s phone in order to enter bars, restaurants, events and performances. 

When gaining entry to an event such as a concert, theatre performance or a sports match, attendees would show evidence of a negative test – along with their admission ticket. 

READ MORE: Austria to extend coronavirus lockdown 

Under the proposed plan, anyone entering a bar or restaurant would need to provide evidence of their negative test – whether that be on their phone or through a testing certificate. 

How likely is it to pass? 

When the announcement was made on Friday, February 19th, Kurz appeared optimistic that such a plan could be successful. 

It appears to be a departure from the previous plan, which was opposed by many in the hospitality sector. 

At the press conference, Kurz said “the tide has turned” regarding opposition to the plan. 

“I understand every landlord or hotelier would rather unlock the door today than tomorrow,” Kurz said, pointing out that bars and restaurants “are an important part of our Austrian identity in everyday life”. 

The stumbling block last time was who would have the responsibility of checking that bars and restaurants were complying with the scheme. 

At the time, Der Standard reported that “the question of who would be responsible for checking the tests in bars emerged as the central problem” in the scheme. 

This could remain a problem, particularly at bars and restaurants where the responsibility of checking each person’s valid negative test may create an undue burden on already resource-strapped entities. 

However, with such a system working relatively well in hairdressers, bars and restaurants appear to have become more enthusiastic about the idea. 

The Austrian government will meet with industry representatives and make a decision on March 1st. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


What can we expect from the Covid situation in Austria this autumn?

The number of Covid infections has been rising in Austria recently. Austria's Health Minister Johannas Rauch has spoken out about what to expect this autumn and winter.

What can we expect from the Covid situation in Austria this autumn?

During the Covid pandemic, Austria had tough restrictions that affected the population as hospitals struggled with a rising number of patients. 

Thankfully the situation is nowhere near as critical as it once was, although the number of Covid infections has been rising lately. 

Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch, of the Greens, on Monday assured people that there was no reason to worry, although he raised concerns about the progress of Covid vaccinations in Austria. 

“We have a better overview today than a year ago,” said Rauch during a press briefing on the Covid situation, adding that this is due to Austria significantly expanding its monitoring system in recent months.

For instance, wastewater monitoring has been expanded to 48 sewage treatment plants, covering more than half of the Austrian population. Genomic sequencing evaluates wastewater samples as well as Covid tests from doctors in private practice and shows the circulating virus variants.

Rauch added that the government has a dashboard that provides “a precise overview of what is happening in the hospitals”.

The Health Minister said Covid was currently “trending upwards”, while other respiratory diseases have actually decreased.

Authorities are set to watch closely at what happens to the development of Covid and other viruses as the months get colder.

Hospitals won’t be overburdened

Rauch said authorities are optimistic that the Covid situation in hospitals will not deteriorate to levels previously seen. 

“From what we know now and how we assess it, we don’t expect an overload of hospitals,” Rauch said. “We have a good overview of what has been happening in the southern hemisphere this winter. These are indicators that we don’t currently have to worry about running into an overload situation.”

However, he pointed out that reports of people having to wait some time in Austria to get a Covid vaccination, which has been adapted to the new variants, are concerning. 

READ ALSO: What are Austria’s new Covid and RSV vaccine recommendations?

Rauch said Austria may follow other European countries and introduce Covid jabs in pharmacies to speed up availability. 

“In Austria, we have a large number of pharmacies that would be quite capable of offering this,” said Rauch. “If it doesn’t work in the general practice sector, we will organise it there.”

Austria has been recommending that people over 60 and risk groups get a Covid booster vaccine, the same advice as for the flu jab. 

However, when to get it should be discussed with your doctor, urged Rauch.

“Talk to your doctor about your personal time window, when is a booster vaccination necessary, due and appropriate,” he said. “Take advantage of this, get advice.”

On the topic of mask mandates, which were previously in force in Austria at different times in the pandemic, Rauch said at the moment mandatory face coverings are not being considered. 

However, it could return in certain areas. “There is the possibility for hospitals and surgeries to enact a mask requirement in their house rules, which must then be complied with,” said Rauch.