Vienna to drop vaccination and recovery requirements from Saturday

The capital has been alone in Austria in its 2G requirements for almost two months, but has decided to ease restrictions as numbers dropped.

Vienna to drop vaccination and recovery requirements from Saturday
People with FFP2 protective face masks wait in front of a shop in the well-known shopping street Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna on February 8, 2021. Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Austria’s capital Vienna is removing its main Covid restriction from Saturday, April 16th, meaning people will no longer need to present proof that they are vaccinated or recovered from the disease (2G rule) to enter bars and restaurants.

“We have decided to go along with the federal steps in a broad sense”, city councillor for Health Peter Hacker said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon. 

The 2G rules are being dropped in all areas, including gastronomy, sports, and hospitals, the secretary said. The state capital is also following federal reopening steps and dropping the FFP2 mask requirement for non-essential retail, including shops and gyms.

FFP2 masks are still mandatory in “essential” indoor public areas, including supermarkets and public transport, Hacker said.

READ ALSO: Austria to keep masks only in ‘essential places’ from April 17th

The move goes in line with the federal government’s announcement. “Nobody wants to wear a mask during summer, but these small requirements are basic measures”, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) had said during a press conference earlier this Thursday.

The reopening measures could be announced as there has been a decline in the infection rates for ten days, Hacker said. However, the decisive factor for Vienna has always been the situation in hospitals, and “the number of new patient admissions is now declining”, the counsellor stated.

One significant difference from the federal rules remains the negative PCR test requirement for visitors in hospitals and care facilities. In the rest of the country, following 3G rules is enough, meaning that vaccinated or recovered people do not need to be tested. The staff will do PCR tests twice a week in Vienna.

The capital has also announced the rules for schools after the Easter holidays.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Masks (surgical masks are allowed) are mandatory outside the class until the eighth grade. From the ninth grade, there is a FFP2 mask requirement. The teaching staff must wear an FFP2 mask outside the class, within the class this also applies to teachers who have neither been vaccinated nor recovered.

Preparations for the cold season

The Vienna representative reiterated that the city will be prepared for autumn when infections could rise again.

“You have to assume that there will be a new load in the fall”, he said.

“Unfortunately, the vaccination disappeared from Austrians’ thoughts as the compulsory vaccination failed”, Hacker added. The councillor stated that a fourth vaccine could be necessary by then – at least for risk patients and those over 65 years of age.

The Viennese ordinance will come into force next Saturday and will be valid until the beginning of the summer holidays, Hacker announced.

Mayor Michael Ludwig was not in attendance during the press conference. He tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week and is now self-isolating at home with mild symptoms. 

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Could Austria be spared another wave of Covid this winter?

Specialists in Austria - and worldwide - can't agree if the Covid-19 pandemic is nearing its end, and many remain cautious. Here's what you need to know.

Could Austria be spared another wave of Covid this winter?

The World Health Organisation’s head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said that the pandemic was not over yet, but that “the end is in sight”. Similarly, US President Joe Biden stated: “The pandemic is over, but we still have a problem with Covid.”

In Austria, experts are cautiously optimistic. Dorothee von Laer, a virologist at the Medical University of Innsbruck, said: “A pandemic is over when a high level of immunity has built up in the population, and that is probably the case everywhere in the world except in China”, Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard reported.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get the new adapted Covid-19 vaccine in Austria

Herwig Kollaritsch, infectologist and member of Austria’s national vaccination panel (NIG), has a similar view. “We are increasingly getting into a somewhat better situation because the immunity level in the population is rising due to many vaccinations and infections.”

Though he is more cautious: “We have always had problems due to a change of variants, and even now, we are absolutely not safe from surprises”.

New variants

The biggest fear ahead of winter is precisely that: a change of variants, specialists say. Especially since more and more omicron mutations are being found and they can circumvent the immune defences quite well, Ulrich Elling, a molecular biologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, told Der Standard.

However, since all the current mutations are still omicron variants, the severe courses of the disease continue to be rare.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

“We still use hospitalisation and death rates as parameters. So when it comes to that, we are out of the woods. But still, a lot of people will get sick – not very seriously, but they will get sick,” Kollaritsch said.

Elling agrees: “Of course, statements about the supposed end of the pandemic are striking a chord with people at the moment. We all want it to be over. Nevertheless, the numbers will rise again. Above all, the new variants escape our immune response more than any other variant before.”

For him, it’s wrong to say that the pandemic is over or that there won’t be a new infection wave in winter. Even though they may be of milder courses of the disease, the virus is still out there and will infect people in the coming months, he believes.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season