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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 ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is currently on trial for lying to a parliamentary committee about whether he embezzled public funds to boost his image. (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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Can I take my kids out of their Austrian school during term time for a holiday?

If you want a cheaper holiday you normally have to go out of peak holiday season, but are you allowed to take your kids out of their Austrian school during term time?

Can I take my kids out of their Austrian school during term time for a holiday?

For many families, there is a strong allure to a holiday trip during term time – after all, you can avoid peak travel costs and crowded destinations by travelling on the shoulder seasons. The problem is, if your kids are in school, they might need to miss a few classes in order to go on the perfect family trip. 

This may seem totally normal in some countries, especially if the kids are in kindergarten and are very young. But is it possible in Austria?

The answer is no. This is because, in Austria, school attendance is compulsory. Even though kids may be homeschooled, once they are in the school system, they can only miss classes if they have a valid reason.

When can my kid miss school?

Travelling for leisure with family is not a valid reason to miss school days in Austria. Children can only miss their classes if they are sick, if members of their household are ill with a transmissible disease if parents or relatives are sick and need help from the student, or if there are “extraordinary events” in the student or student’s family life. 

Another reason is if there are issues in the route to school or bad weather that make it dangerous for the pupil to reach classes. 

READ ALSO: Four things foreigners in Austria need to know about the education system

What happens if my child misses class?

If your kid misses class without a justification for more than three days (not necessarily consecutive days), they will be reported to the district administrative authority. Then, parents can receive a fine of between €110 to €440. 

Older kids (those in the so-called mittleren or höheren Schulen) should be even more careful because if they are absent for more than one week without justification, they are then deregistered from school. 

What if I home-school?

Homeschooling is allowed in Austria, and the number of homeschooled children actually rose during the coronavirus pandemic years. The rules are more lenient, of course, and there is no authority to check the curriculum or if the children are taking classes daily.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Is home schooling legal in Austria?

However, parents do need to submit a planned curriculum and pedagogical concept for lessons in advance. And, once a year, pupils need to sit an exam to show they are on par with their schooled equivalent.

That means that, technically, homeschooled kids could travel with parents and family off-season.

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