EXPLAINED: How will Austria’s compulsory test requirement to go shopping work?

Eastern Austria's post-Easter reopening may include mandatory testing in shops. Here's what you need to know.

People queue up to use the shops

Please note: As at March 30th, this plan is currently on hold. Please click here for more information. 

This week, Austrian officials announced a hard Easter lockdown in the east of the state. 

From April 1st until April 6th, the states of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland will enter a hard lockdown. 

While the lockdown should end on April 6th, it may be extended if infection rates and hospitalisations remain high. 

What is the plan as it currently stands?

If shops open again on 7th April following the Easter lockdown in Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland (from 1st April to 6th April), you will need a test to go shopping, according to the latest plans of the Ministry of Health.

Will I need a negative test result to visit all shops? 

Not all shops. Some retail outlets, such as those providing vital services, appear to be be exempt.

For example you can go to supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and post offices without a test, reports Austria’s Kurier newspaper

As it stands, it appears the shops with a negative test requirement will be those considered ‘non-essential’ by the government which are not allowed to open from April 1st to 6th. 

How could a test requirement work in practice? 

Although more details are forthcoming, Austrian media reports that the system may be similar to that currently employed for close contact (i.e. body-hugging) services like hairdressers and cosmetic services. 

Austria’s Kurier newspaper reports that the test would need to be less than 48 hours old, much like in rules for close contact services. 

Alternately, it could mirror the system in place in Vorarlberg. 

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

In Vorarlberg, the only state in Austria to open up its restaurants and events so far, has done so with a test requirement.

In the western state, there is an online test platform which people can use to upload negative self-tests.

A digital confirmation of the test is used as a 24-hour entry certificate for events, as well as giving children aged under 18 the chance to participate in indoor sports.

A PCR test result is valid for 72 hours. An antigen test carried out under supervision by an authorised body gives access for 48 hours. 

To visit a pub or restaurant a negative PCR test (taken in the past 72 hours) or an antigen test (taken in the past 48 hours) must be presented.

In Austria it is already necessary to show a negative recent PCR test result when visiting a hairdresser or other “body hugging” services, such as a manicurist or a tattoo parlour. 

People with FFP2 protective face masks wait in front of a pharmacy in the well-known shopping street Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

What exemptions could be in place? 

If the eastern states follow Vorarlberg’s methods, people who have contracted Covid-19 in the past six months are exempt from the obligation to test. This can be proven with a doctor’s certificate or proof of neutralising antibodies (for a period of three months). Vaccinated people are not exempt from the obligation to test.

What do the shopkeepers say about the plans? 

The GPA union has criticised the corona access tests planned for retail in eastern Austria, saying they are “unrealistic” and “unsuitable for fighting pandemics”.

The union fears a test requirement may increase attacks on shop employees from disgruntled customers, many of whom already dislike the mask requirement in shops. 

If tests were compulsory, the non-food trade would lose two thirds of sales, Rainer Will, managing director of the trade association, told the Kronen Zietung on Monday.

How likely is the plan?

One of the major stumbling blocks appears to be whether or not the plan can be supported under existing law, or whether a new amendment would need to be passed. 

While the Austrian government is pushing ahead with the plan, it is expected to receive some serious opposition from the other parties in parliament. 

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober however said he believes the Covid-19 Measures Act framework allows for the measure to be introduced, much as it has been for hairdressers and cosmetic services. 

Free gurgle tests for Vienna

Vienna has announced today all people working or living in Vienna can be regularly tested for the corona virus free of charge using a PCR gargle test. People who drop off their tests at participating stores before 9am receive the result within 24 hours.

The Alles Gurgelt (everyone gurgles) website explains test results can be already be used to visit a hairdresser or in the future, to visit other businesses with a test requirement. Starting next week, up to 200,000 free PCR tests should be possible for all Viennese people every day.

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Grocery shopping in Austria: How much could you save by switching chains?

With food prices rising in Austria the weekly grocery shopping bill has become more of a burden on households but is there anything to be saved by switching chains? David Everson-Baltas crunched the numbers.

Grocery shopping in Austria: How much could you save by switching chains?

All over the world, people are having to deal with what seems like a barrage of unending economic uncertainty and soaring prices, but Austria in particular has been grappling with some of the highest inflation rates in Europe.

Quite understandably, our initial reaction to out-of-control price hikes tends to focus on one thing: earning more money. But in our efforts to manage our money more diligently, we often forget that our choices as consumers can have just as significant an impact on our bank balances.

Where you shop for groceries is one such choice, and with inflation pushing up food prices by as much as 30 percent, you can make regular and sizeable savings simply by being more selective in where you shop.

Since the beginning of 2023, after seeing a pack of tri-colour peppers at an eye-watering €3.99, I have been making a concerted effort to reduce my household food expenses by thinking more carefully about where I shop, and in doing so have made some considerable savings.

To help you make more informed shopping decisions, I have recently conducted a price comparison of essential food shops across three major supermarket chains in Austria.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about supermarkets in Austria

The three supermarkets:

As a resident of Austria, you will likely be familiar with the market chains: Spar, Billa and Hofer.  Outlets for all three companies can be found throughout Austria, yet they differ substantially in their prices and respective reputations for variety, quality, and promotional offers.

Spar: Der österreichische Supermarkt in Ihrer Nähe! (The Austrian supermarket near you)

With over 1,500 locations across the country, Spar is central to the Austrian food shop. Whether you’re in Vienna, Vorarlberg, or an out-of-the-way mountain village, the chances are there is, indeed, a spar store “near you”.


Image by M. from Pixabay.

Particularly in the case of its larger INTERSPAR stores, the Dutch supermarket chain offers a much wider choice of products compared to Billa and Hofer, and with the introduction of its new app, shoppers can now get immediate access to a limited number of 25 percent off discounts for their most expensive items.

Billa: A portmanteau of “billiger Laden” (cheap shop)

Billa, with over 1,000 outlets in Austria, has been serving Austrians since 1953, offering a diverse range of products to meet their daily requirements. The chain often includes 25 percent off discount stickers in their mail-marketing brochures, so shoppers can enjoy regular savings on their most expensive purchases.

This, coupled with its loyalty card scheme , makes it a popular choice for those who like big promotions and exclusive offers.

Hofer: Da bin ich mir sicher (I’m sure)

Hofer, known in some parts of the world as Aldi, has revolutionized the food shopping experience with its commitment to affordability. With over 500 locations across Austria, Hofer has become synonymous with budget-friendly shopping. This discount supermarket offers no-frills shopping, focusing on the essentials with an albeit smaller range of products.

The results:

Having compiled a shopping list of general food staples and essentials, I took to the shops to see which would cause the least amount of damage to my budget. It should be noted that the products across Spar, Billa and Hofer are often from independent producers and don’t always share the same brand, so in order to maintain a fair comparison, items were compared according to quality and price level i.e., store brand bio products were always compared with other store brand bio products, as were budget brand items.

Below is the list of items that were compared across the three stores:

*Onions (1kg)

Peppers (x1)

Midi vine tomatoes (1kg)

Potatoes (1kg),

Bananas (1kg)

Apples (1kg)

*Eggs (10x L)

Butter (250g)

Full-fat Milk (1l)

Chicken (1kg)

*Olive oil (750ml)

Flour (1kg)

Sugar (1kg)

Bread roll (Kaisersemmel x1)

*Sausages (240g)

Cheese (175g)

*Adjustments in price were made to items sold in different weights or quantities.

The total bill for each shop came to:

Spar: €76,06

Billa: €76,86

Hofer: €67,79

So, there you have it. Of the three, Hofer emerges as the more economical choice with prices over 10 percent cheaper on average than those of its rivals.

But as you’ll by now be aware, each shop has its own benefits and drawbacks, and price alone might not be the sole determinant for where you decide to shop.

Which Austrian chain is best to shop in?

Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Things to consider:

No single shop provides everything: It’s crucial to note that the above comparison does not factor in the various promotional offers and discount schemes unique to each store, nor does it account for our individual tastes in choice and quality. To maximise your savings, I encourage you to take full advantage of Billa and Spar’s 25 percent off stickers, using them for items not available at Hofer or when they offer a better deal.

READ ALSO: Where to find international food in Austria 

Distance: Living in Vienna, I am fortunate enough to have all three stores within walking distance of my home, though I understand this to be the exception rather than the rule. That being said, with Hofer being the farthest of the three, I’m still forced to give up more of my time in order to benefit from the lower costs. The optimists among you may, however, join me in viewing this longer trek to the shop as an opportunity for exercise. Consider your new trip to Hofer as a means of improving both your physical and financial health.

Quality: Having shopped at all three chains for more than five years, I’ve found no substantial differences in the quality of their products, especially when it comes to essential food items. Given the significantly lower prices Hofer has to offer, any shopper who prefers Billa and Spar products may still be inclined to overlook certain drops in quality in order to save money.

Keep up-to-date: To aid consumers in battling rising food prices, the ÖVP Minister of Economic Affairs Martin Kocher has proposed a law mandating all major supermarkets to publish their food prices on comparison platforms. While they don’t yet provide a fully comprehensive list of every store’s pricing, you can compare many of your shopping list items already at