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Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic

Which city is the best place to live? While Hamburg and Vienna frequently topped the charts in previous years, both cities lost significant ground in an annual ranking.

Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic
People go for a sunny walk in Hamburg in late May as the city began to open up after seven months of lockdown measures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

In the most recent Global Liveability Index by the British Economist group, European cities have become noticeably less attractive due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vienna, Hamburg and other major European cities such as Prague, Athens and Rome fared significantly worse in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking than in previous years. Other German cities also made big drops, such as Frankfurt (-29) and Düsseldorf (-28).

READ MORE: Why is Vienna no longer the ‘most liveable’ city in the world?

New Zealand, Japan and Australia, on the other hand, gathered significant ground.

Vienna was top of the EIU ranking from 2018 to 2020. Now the Austrian capital has dropped to 12th place. Germany’s northern city-state of Hamburg even slipped 34 places to 47th.

Only two European cities made it into the top 10 in the rankings – Zurich (7th) and Geneva (8th) in Switzerland.

What accounts for the big drop?

For the ranking, the EIU uses criteria such as stability, health care, culture, environment, education and infrastructure.

The EIU cites the “strain on hospital systems” and the resulting “stress on healthcare” as two of the main reasons for the weak performance of German and Austrian cities this year.

The pandemic has also had a particularly strong impact on the cultural sector and general quality of life in Europe, it wrote in the report. 

Other reasons behind Hamburg and Vienna’s decline this year include restrictions on local sporting events, educational institutions and restaurants, bars and cafes.

While both Germany and Austria fared relatively well in the first wave of the pandemic, both struggled to keep case numbers down in the second and third waves. 

Germany introduced a one month “lockdown light” in November, which was continually extended and sometimes made stricter until mid-May, when states began to reopen public life again

Austria also introduced various on-and-off shutdown measures starting in October, including curfews from 8pm or even periods when no one was allowed to leave their homes for 24 hours. It also began to significantly open up again in late May.

READ ALSO: Has Austria picked the right strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic?

However, other factors unrelated to the pandemic also played a role in the Economist ranking. The authors of the report also looked at the quality of the road network and public transport, level of corruption and religious restrictions.

Yet Hamburg still scored high in other quality of life rankings for 2021. It was named the ‘Green City of the Year’ by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies. 

A full 45 percent of the harbourside city is devoted to parks and forests, said the centre, who also awarded it extra points for using sustainable construction materials and creating ‘green jobs’.

Every year from 2009 to 2019, Mercer’s Quality of Living survey named Vienna as the best place to live in the entire world.

 
 
 
 
 
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It’s rationale was similar to that of the EIU: The city’s infrastructure, public transport network, clean water supply, healthcare and – last but not least – cultural and leisure activities helped it play a leading role in the worldwide ranking. 

So where are the ‘most livable cities’ now?

The title of “most livable city in the world” this year went to the New Zealand port city of Auckland. The EIU explained its selection by citing its success in containing the pandemic as a key factor. 

“New Zealand’s tough lockdown subsequently enabled rapid relaxations and allowed citizens of cities like Auckland and Wellington to live almost as they did before the pandemic,” the report read.

The biggest improvement in the ranking was achieved by the capital of the U.S. Pacific island and state of Hawaii: Honolulu got the spread of the coronavirus under control particularly quickly and therefore climbed 46 places in the ranking to 14th place.

The Syrian capital Damascus, on the other hand, remains the city where life is most difficult due to the ongoing civil war, according to the study.

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COVID-19 RULES

Reader question: When will Vienna drop the mask requirement for public transport?

For several months, the Austrian capital has been the only province with a strict FFP2 mask mandate in public transport. But, with federal measures dropping soon, will Vienna abolish its face masks?

Reader question: When will Vienna drop the mask requirement for public transport?

The “Viennese way” has been a controversial part of Austria’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as the capital often used its prerogative to have stricter rules than the federal government. However, with Covid-19 numbers dropping, all but one Viennese restriction has been lifted: the mandatory use of FFP2 masks in public transport.

For months now, people riding public transport from Bregenz to Eisenstadt have been able to do so without wearing a mask – but that is not the case in Vienna. 

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

In the capital, Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) insisted that masks were necessary to contain the pandemic, especially during the winter, when other respiratory infections have afflicted the population.

But the stricter measures have been criticised even by experts recently, as some Austrian epidemiologists claimed they were “no longer understandable”

Earlier this month, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) announced that the country would drop all Covid restrictions by the end of June. As a result, as of May, there will no longer be a mask requirement in hospitals, nursing homes and doctor’s offices, as reported.

READ ALSO: Austria to drop all Covid restrictions by the end of June

Vienna, however, could keep its restrictions – but not forever. The Covid Measures Act, which allowed provinces to opt for stricter guidelines if they deemed necessary, will expire in July. There is, therefore, a deadline for the Viennese way.  

Will Vienna drop its mask requirements sooner?

Vienna could, of course, drop its stricter restrictions earlier than the deadline. The capital’s Act with the FFP2 mask mandate in public transport is set to expire on February 28th. The city could extend it – as it has done countless times before – but it could also let it expire, dropping the mask obligation starting in March.

This Wednesday, February 8th, the City of Vienna will discuss the further course of action in the fight against the coronavirus. Mayor Ludwig is set to meet with Covid experts at City Hall and the main point of discussion is the future of the mask mandate, Austrian media has reported.

READ ALSO: Long Covid: What support is available in Austria?

The City could also discuss other stricter measures it currently has, including the mandatory PCR test for people visiting the elderly and sick and the rule mandating hospital staff to test every week.

The measures that will continue to apply in March should be announced soon. If the city abolishes the mask requirement in the public transport system, the operators could voluntarily include it in their house rules, but it is unlikely that they would do so. 

Tram, bus and metro operator Wiener Linien told broadcaster ORF that t would only impose a mask requirement in line with regulations. ÖBB also said it would adopt the province rules.

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