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Lockdown measures: What will Austria decide on Monday?

The Austrian government is set to make a decision on Monday about whether to relax, or even tighten, the coronavirus lockdown measures.

Lockdown measures: What will Austria decide on Monday?
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

An “opening summit” took place on Thursday, in which Chamber of Commerce boss Harald Mahrer said the government should look at facts and data.

He believed this would show that opening up the catering and hotel industries would be possible in mid March by using testing, distance and mask requirements and vaccinations.

The federal government previously said cultural venues, cafes and restaurants would only open around Easter “at the earliest”.

Then, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz began to entertain the possibility of opening up restaurants with a testing strategy similar to that used by schools and hairdressers at the last easing of lockdown measures.

The federal government will meet on Monday to decide if and when lockdown measures should be relaxed. 

‘Very high risk’

However, this was quickly followed by a meeting of the government’s Corona Commission, which said Austria was currently at “very high risk”.

The infection rate is increasing and a rapidly increasing proportion of the infections are due to the British variant of the coronavirus. 

The commission not only warned against relaxing the existing measures but also spoke of going back into full lockdown if Austria once again found itself with a nationwide incidence rate of over 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Schools closure ‘last resort’

Two weeks ago, Austria’s incidence rate was 106, as of Friday, it is 149. However, the commission says schools should only close as a “last resort”.

ORF reports Vienna and Upper Austria will begin vaccinating teachers and kindergarten staff next week.

At present, the hospital figures do not look too alarming, with 13 percent of the intensive care beds occupied by Covid patients on Wednesday.

However, there is normally a lag between increasing incidences and increases in intensive care units, and the commission recommends that the federal states take measures to prepare for this. 

Are more cases due to more testing?

The commission believes only 10 to 15 percent of the increase in incidence cases can be traced back to increased testing. 

The British mutation of the virus is of particular concern to the Corona Commission. It is believed this variant is already responsible for more than half the infections across Austria.

The reproduction rate of the variant is 27 percent higher than previous versions of the virus, which pushes up the R number (the amount of people infected by each infected person) to 1.22.

The aim of experts and politicians is to keep the number of reproductions below one.

Who is catching coronavirus?

In the past three weeks there has been a disproportionate increase in the number of cases of coronavirus in those aged under 25 in comparison to the other age groups, connected to the introduction of testing in schools and educational establishments. 

Only minor increases were recorded in the over 65 age groups. There has also been a decline in coronavirus clusters in care and nursing homes as well as in the health sector due to vaccinations and other measures.

Two weeks needed to show results

Nikolas Popper from the Vienna University of Technology has told Der Standard after two weeks of increased testing in Austria it will be possible to show if testing is working in keeping the numbers of coronavirus infections in check.

He told the newspaper if there is no fall or stabilisation in the number of infections very quickly, it will show there is a problem in the screening process. 

The point of the tests is that infected people and their direct contacts are isolated and prevented from infecting others.

This should mean that the number of infections will automatically decrease. If this is not happening, the screening through the tests has too little effect.

Then it will be necessary to see if the tests are too imprecise or if quarantine is being enforced rigorously enough. 

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COVID-19 RULES

Austria to drop all Covid restrictions by the end of June

Austria's government announced the country would be back to "normal operation" in July, including in the capital Vienna. Here's what this means.

Austria to drop all Covid restrictions by the end of June

On Wednesday, February 1st, Austria’s federal government announced it would end all Covid-19 crisis measures by the end of June.

In a press conference, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) explained that vaccinations, tests and medications would be integrated into the regular structures of the national health system. 

There will be no more free tests, except for people with symptoms and patients at risk, and those will be carried out only by family doctors or in hospitals. However, vaccination will remain free of charge and available at various points, including at family doctor’s offices. 

“The virus is here to stay, and we are preparing to live with it in the long term,” Rauch said. 

All current measures will be dropped in phases, including mask requirements, obligation to report illness, and special rules for doctors and nursing homes, the minister said.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes about life in Austria in February 2023

Roadmap to end all restrictions

From May, there will be no mask requirement in hospitals, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices. However, people in risk groups will be able to take time off work if they feel they would not be adequately protected at the workplace (and working from home is not an option) – this will be valid until the end of April.

As of July, all other measures will end with the expiration of the Covid Measures Act. Covid-19 will no longer be a notifiable disease, so people who test positive won’t have to follow any particular protocol. Currently, they must adhere to certain restrictions for 10 days, depending on the province.

READ ALSO: What’s happening in Vienna in February 2023?

The Covid Measures Act also allowed provinces to opt for stricter measures if they deemed necessary. The Austrian capital Vienna famously adhered to stricter regulations and is the only province where there is still an FFP2 mask mandate in public transport. 

With the expiration of the Act, Vienna will no longer be allowed to impose specific regulations and the mask requirement will fall.

Monitoring and new Epidemics Act

Rauch said that, even after the end of the reporting obligation, Austria would continue to monitor the course of the pandemic – particularly with the analysis of PCR samples and evaluation of wastewater in specific treatment plants nationwide.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why are so many people falling ill in Austria right now?

Additionally, he said that the Ministry of Health is working on a fundamental revision of the Epidemics Act. The aim is to send a draft bill with a “pandemic plan” that will include detailed descriptions of how to deal with various pandemic phases by the end of the year. 

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