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EXPLAINED: Can I leave Austria to go on holiday during the lockdown?

Austria went into nationwide lockdown on Monday, with people largely confined to their homes. Under what circumstances can I leave the country?

A green exit sign at Vienna International Airport
Austria's lockdown rules are among the harshest in the world. Can you travel abroad? Photo by niklas schoenberger on Unsplash

As of Monday, November 22nd, Austria has gone into a nationwide lockdown. Whether for work, travel or to visit family, is it possible to escape the lockdown and head abroad? 

READ MORE: Thousands protest against Austria’s nationwide Covid lockdown

Here’s what you need to know. 

What are the rules of the lockdown? 

Bars, restaurants and shops will be forced to close, while people will be restricted from leaving their home other than for a handful of exceptional reasons, including shopping and exercise. 

While the lockdown is expected to run until December 12th for the vaccinated along with those who have recently had the virus and recovered, there is no deadline to the lockdown for the unvaccinated. 

A compulsory vaccination requirement will come into place from February. 

READ MORE: What we know about Austria’s plan for compulsory Covid vaccination

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg made the announcements at a press conference on Friday

What are the exceptions to the stay-at-home order?

Austria’s stay-at-home order, sometimes discussed as a 24-hour curfew, requires that people stay at home other than for the “necessary basic needs of life”. 

While this has not been extensively defined as part of the new lockdown order, the language is the exact same as that used during Austria’s previous Covid lockdowns. 

Austria’s coronavirus lockdown: Under what circumstances can I leave my apartment?

At that time, the Austrian government clarified what people are allowed to do on several occasions to include visiting close family and friends, go to the doctor, exercise, shopping and going to work. 

You are also permitted to leave the house to avert danger

Unlike a handful of countries including the United Kingdom and Australia who put in place restrictions on allowing people to leave the country, Austria never put in place any restriction on people leaving the country and is not expected to do so this time around. 

Where people encountered difficulties, it usually related to restrictions put in place by another country on being allowed to enter, rather than any rule put in place by Austria. 

Can I go on holiday during the lockdown? 

Under the lockdown rules during winter of 2020/2021, Austrian residents were clearly allowed to leave Austria to visit close family members, partners or for professional reasons. 

Travelling to a second home outside of Austria is also permitted, Kurier reports. 

Therefore, as visiting family fits within the “necessary basic needs of life”, foreigners who live in Austria will not be prevented from heading to their countries of origin. 

They will also not be prevented from returning, provided their residency permits and visas remain valid. 

Whether you can leave Austria to go on holiday however remains a little less clear, although all of Austria’s neighbours remain open to arrivals from Austria. 

As of Monday, November 22nd, the travel advice from the Austrian Foreign Ministry still has all EU countries coloured green, i.e. meaning that there are no restrictions. 

It appears that while the government does not want to encourage people to head abroad on beach holidays by expressly saying this is permitted, there is little the government can do to prevent you from leaving. 

As written by Austrian media outlet Salzburg Nachrichten on Monday, “Anyone who wants to escape the lockdown by taking a long vacation trip abroad should be able to do so. It could only become problematic if the return takes place during the lockdown and none of the exceptions can be made credible during a police check.”

Key points: How will Austria’s new national lockdown work?

Constitutional and administrative lawyer Peter Bußjäger told Kurier during the previous lockdown that trips abroad are “officially not forbidden” and that an effort to fine someone for going on vacation “would probably not hold up in court”. 

“Prohibition norms have to be precise, but the regulation is not enough at this point,” he said. 

Bußjäger said a court would be likely to strike down an attempt to prevent someone from staying in a hotel abroad on a holiday – primarily as visits to second homes are allowed. 

Bußjäger said however that the reason for heading abroad would be relevant in the court’s decision. 

“It is understandable that there is a higher risk of infection in a hotel than, for example, when hiking,” he said. 

Even deciding to go abroad for a beach holiday would be looked at more favourably by the courts than, for instance, going abroad to stay in a thermal bath hotel, Bußjäger said. 

Please keep in mind that this report has been written as a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Two major changes that were due to come into force in 2022 for travellers entering the EU - an enhanced passport scanning system and the introduction of a €7 visa for tourists - have been delayed for a year.

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Although both the EES and ETIAS schemes are still due to be introduced in the European Commission has pushed back the start dates for both until 2023.

It comes amid a chaotic summer for travel in Europe, with airports struggling with staff shortages and strikes while some crossings from the UK to France have been hit by long delays as extra post-Brexit checks are performed during the peak holiday season. 

The two separate changes to travel in the EU and Schengen zone were originally due to come into effect in 2020, but were delayed because of the pandemic. Now the EES system is expected to come into effect in May 2023, while ETIAS will come into effect in November 2023. 

The EES – Entry and Exit System – is essentially enhanced passport scanning at the EU’s borders and means passports will not only be checked for ID and security, but also for entry and exit dates, in effect tightening up enforcement of the ’90 day rule’ that limits the amount of time non-EU citizens can spend in the Bloc without having a visa.

It will not affect non-EU citizens who live in an EU country with a residency permit or visa.

There have been concerns that the longer checks will make transiting the EU’s external borders slower, a particular problem at the UK port of Dover, where the infrastructure is already struggling to cope with enhanced post-Brexit checks of people travelling to France.

You can read a full explanation of EES, what it is and who is affects HERE.

The ETIAS system will apply to all non-EU visitors to an EU country – eg tourists, second-home owners, those making family visits and people doing short-term work.

It will involve visitors registering in advance for a visa and paying a €7 fee. The visa will be valid for three years and can be used for multiple trips – essentially the system is very similar to the ESTA visa required for visitors to the USA. 

Residents of an EU country who have a residency card or visa will not need one.

You can read the full details on ETIAS, how it works and who it affects HERE.

Both systems will apply only to people who do not have citizenship of an EU country – for example Brits, Americans, Australians and Canadians – and will be used only at external EU/Schengen borders, so it won’t be required when travelling between France and Germany, for example. 

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