Covid rules: mask requirements remain in place for Austrian schools

Despite the reopening steps over the weekend, the mask rules at schools and universities will remain mostly in place in Austria.

children wearing masks
Masks will continue to be mandatory in Austrian schools despite reopening steps (Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

When schools and university classes resume after the Easter break, students and teachers will go back to a familiar setting in more than one way. Austria has decided to keep the mask requirements in education for the time being, according to the Ministry of Education.

Students must have a surgical mask (known in Austria as MNS) outside of classrooms and group rooms in school, up to the 8th school level. From the 9th school level, there is an FFP2 mask requirement.

Vaccinated or recovered teachers wear masks throughout the school building, but not in classrooms and group rooms. Teachers who have not been vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19 have to wear masks in the classrooms.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: The latest coronavirus restrictions in Austria

Testing schemes

The frequent Covid-19 tests in schools are also changing, according to the Ministry of Education.

There is a mandatory weekly PCR test, down from the twice-a-week requirement, and antigen tests should be available in some instances, such as when there are positive cases of Covid in the class.

READ ALSO: Austria to discontinue ‘Ninja’ test booklet after Easter break

How about the universities?

Things can get more confusing in higher education since each university regulates its own corona requirements.

Most universities will keep an FFP2 mask requirement for the time being, at least in common areas, Vienna.AT reported.

Austria’s mask mandate

Last week, Austria had removed most of the coronavirus restrictions, including mandatory masks in most – but not all – indoor places.

As masks will continue to be used in schools and universities of the alpine country, they are also mandatory in enclosed spaces of hospitals, elderly and nursing homes, public transport, taxis, and customer areas of vital trade, including supermarkets.

The mask mandate has been dropped in enclosed places like gyms, restaurants and bars, and cultural establishments, although masks are still recommended here.

At the same time, the Austrian government announced an end to the so-called 3G rule. People will no longer have to present proof that they have been vaccinated, recently recovered or tested negative to enter most places – including Viennese bars and restaurants, where the even stricter 2G rules (vaccinated or recovered) were in place.

3G rules still apply to visitors, employees, and service providers in hospitals and care homes. Some universities will also keep the rules at least until the end of the month.

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

COVID numbers keep going down

Austria has seen a substantial decline in the number of new coronavirus infections.

According to the Ministry of Health, just over 7,000 new cases were recorded on April 17th. There were 1,885 people in hospitals with Covid-19, 99 fewer than the day before, and 161 people in intensive care units.

In Austria, 16,420 people have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

The country has just under 70 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, meaning they have two doses of an approved vaccine within validity.

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Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria's autumn Covid-19 plan includes a fourth Covid-19 dose to all those older than 12 and the Health Ministry doesn't rule out further measures, especially a return of the mask mandate.

Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Austria’s Health Ministry and the country’s National Immunisation Panel (NIG) have recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population ahead of autumn.

Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) and physician Herwig Kollaritsch of the Immunisation Panel have requested people take the vaccination before the cold months, reiterating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protects against more severe courses of the disease.

“You can do a lot before autumn. Don’t wait until the numbers rise. Get vaccinated, take the booster shots”, Kollaritsch said in a press conference this Wednesday, August 31st.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The previous recommendation was only for people older than 60 or those in risk groups. “After there was already the booster recommendation for the vulnerable and over 60-year-olds over the summer, all other groups are to get a booster in the coming weeks,” the health minister said.

Only 58.9 percent of the population is currently sufficiently vaccinated, as per the recommendation of the National Immunisation Panel (NIG) – which for the majority of the population is three doses – or if they’ve had Covid then two doses and a recent recovered status.

New measures ahead of autumn

The health minister stopped short of announcing new Covid-19 measures for autumn.

When he announced the end of the mask mandate in the country back in May, Rauch had said the suspension would be “temporary” and masks were likely to return after summer, depending on the pandemic, particularly on hospitalisation numbers.

Currently, masks are obligatory in the health sector and on public transport in Vienna.

“We evaluate the situation weekly by talking with the hospital heads in the states. We have a very good view of the Covid-19 data, and we don’t rule out bringing measures back in the future”, he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna extends stricter Covid-19 rules until late October

He added: “It is likely that in the autumn, compulsory masks will again be useful and necessary in certain areas such as public transport or supermarkets,”.

For now, though, the minister said he recommends people to get vaccinated, wear masks where social distancing is not possible, and get tested regularly – even if those measures are not mandatory.

When should you get vaccinated?

The fourth vaccination should come a minimum of four months after the third one (or after a Covid-19 infection) but not after six months of the third dose (regardless of whether or not the person has had an infection after the last vaccine), according to the NIG.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Which Austrian states will allow Covid-infected teachers in classrooms?

For children between five and eleven years of age, the basic immunisation – which consists of three vaccinations – should be completed by the start of school at the latest; no booster vaccination is currently recommended in this age group.

Austria expects vaccines adapted to the omicron variant to arrive in the country before the end of September, the health minister said.