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

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.

Will testing allow bars and restaurants to open again in Austria from March?
A worker removes extra chairs at the 'Orient Accident' restaurant at Naschmarkt market in Vienna, Austria 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. 

Have your say: What is your favourite outdoor dining spot in Austria?

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. 

Should terraces and pubs with outdoor areas be opened again?

The mayor of Vienna is calling for the city’s “Schanigarten” or outside pub gardens and restaurant terraces to open in March.

While the government has previously said there will be no further easing until “around Easter”, on Wednesday, Health Minister Rudolf Aschober spoke of further consultations at the beginning of March.

The city’s health councillor Peter Hacker hopes the opening pub gardens will be considered in this consultation. 

The general secretary of the Chamber of Commerce (WKO) Karlheinz Kopf also gave an interview today to the Kurier, in which he called for more openings before Easter.

ORF reports Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Minister Elisabeth Köstinger will hold a summit today with  leaders from the gastronomy and tourism sector. 

A man eats a sandwich in a deserted restaurant Schanigarten JOE KLAMAR AFP

‘No longer acceptable’

Vienna is not alone in calling for restaurants and cafes to be able to serve customers outside. Der Standard reports on Wednesday, Innsbruck’s Vice Mayor Johannes Anzengruber said restaurants should open again, saying the situation is “no longer acceptable”, especially for the catering industry.

Burgenland’s governor Hans Peter Doskozil wants to open thermal hotels in March and sports associations are calling for more relaxation for sports clubs, pointing out children with a negative test are allowed to go to school, but are not allowed to play sports. 

The calls come despite a rise in infections in Austria, including statistics which show the British version B.1.1.7 of the coronavirus makes up a 40 percent share of Vienna’s cases.

However, the South African mutant has not yet been detected in the city’s sewage. 

Stable phase necessary

In an interview with Ö1, Katharina Reich, Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health, said the rise in cases could be related to the increased amount of testing, but increased testing would eventually drive down the numbers of infections.

Before reopening, a stable phase is necessary in Austria.

Reich said she believed it would take until Easter to achieve really stable figures in the long term, however, earlier opening steps could take place “in principle”, “if the numbers go down accordingly” and if security concepts are in place.

A woman walks past a closed restaurant in the Naschmarkt JOE KLAMAR AFP

Risk outside ‘low’

Speaking to Der Standard, Med-Uni virologist Hans-Peter Hutter said it was a good idea to open up pub gardens, and warned otherwise people would start meeting up illicitly.

The mathematician Norbert Mauser also told the newspaper he was in favour of opening up the pub gardens as the risk of infection outdoors is low.

However, both experts agreed tables should be spaced out at of two meters with only four guests per table, and only one guest allowed to go to the toilet at a time. 

However the Ministry of Health told the paper the increase in new variants of the virus may set back plans to open earlier. It may also not be economically viable for smaller restaurants to open with corona measures in place. 

A sommelier in Vienna JOE KLAMAR AFP

Wine taverns to open daily

One positive piece of news is once lockdown for restaurants and bars is over, winemakers will be allowed to open their taverns in the vineyard every day from April, assuming the number of infections allows the end of lockdown.

Vienna’s vineyard wine taverns are normally only allowed to open from Friday to Sunday

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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.