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COVID-19 VACCINES

EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s plans to bring back the vaccine mandate?

Austria's mandatory Covid-19 vaccination law has been surrounded by controversies and a nationwide suspension, but there are indications it may be on its way back soon.

EXPLAINED: What are Austria's plans to bring back the vaccine mandate?
Medical personnel is given the Pfizer-Biontech Covid-19 corona virus vaccine at the Favoriten Clinic in Vienna, Austria, on December 27, 2020 on the occasion of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 corona virus vaccine rollout. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / various sources / AFP)

Even as the number of new coronavirus infections steadily drops in Austria, the country has resumed talks of a Covid-19 vaccine mandate – perhaps not for all citizens, but for some.

Several of Austria’s leading experts have been public about their view that the country should “protect those particularly at risk” ahead of what they view as a likely autumn wave.

Virologist Dorothee von Laer, who has become one of the most widely recognised specialists during the pandemic, has made it clear that compulsory vaccination for those over 60-years-old might be needed if vaccination rates don’t go up in the next few weeks.

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

The goal of a vaccine mandate for this group would be to prevent the overload of the health system, as 90 per cent of hospitalised and deceased are over 60, she told the Austrian parliament during a hearing on Covid measures, Der Standard reported.

Vaccine mandate for ‘at risk’ patients

Dr. von Laer is not alone. Also at the hearing and defending a compulsory vaccination for at-risk patients was lawyer Christiane Druml, chairperson of the Bioethics Commission and one of the members of Austria’s GECKO commission – a group of specialists tasked with assessing the pandemic situation and possible measures.

Druml said that compulsory vaccination is also the most extreme measure. Still, vaccination shouldn’t be seen as a private matter. She highlighted that the “principle of solidarity” should be taken into account when it comes to vaccination.

The bioethics expert advised that compulsory vaccination should apply to groups such as health professionals, people over 60 and high-risk patients of all ages, according to statements given to the newspaper Kurier.

Revaluation of the mandate is coming up

Austria’s mandatory vaccination law received presidential approval in early February and came into force. However, as support dwindled, other countries failed to institute similar measures, and vaccination rates continued to stall; the law was suspended just days before a new stage was set to start, one that would have unvaccinated people receive fines at random checks.

READ ALSO: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

The official reason for the suspension, Constitutional Minister Karoline Edstadler (ÖVP) announced in early March, as that the “burden on fundamental rights” of such a measure was not “necessary” at the time, as the omicron wave of the coronavirus resulted in fewer severe cases.

The law itself provided for a suspension, and Health Minister Johannes Ruach (Greens) explained concerns about new variants and seasonal spikes in new infections as winter approaches could lead to a change in policy.

Additionally, experts would have to consider that measures commonly taken to halt the spread of the virus, from mandatory masks to lockdowns, might not be well received after two years of pandemic and summer, basically without any restrictions.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Austria’s vaccine mandate will work

Rauch said that the Austrian vaccination committee would meet again this May to report back to the government to make a new decision over compulsory vaccination.

“Vaccination protects”

Even as the vaccination mandate is seen as a “last resort”, doctors and specialists continue to plead with the Austrian population to get vaccinated.

Health Minister Rauch, on several occasions, reiterated: “the vaccine works, and the vaccine protects”, asking people who haven’t received any vaccination to get their shot and those who haven’t taken their booster to protect themselves.

READ ALSO: Why are the numbers of fully-vaccinated people going down in Austria?

Austria currently has 68.46 per cent of its population fully vaccinated. As more people let their Covid passes expire without taking the third dose, the number decreases. Just under 76 per cent of the population has at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, and 54.4 per cent have received the third dose.

On Thursday, April 21st, the country reported 11,948 new coronavirus infections. A total of 1,704 people were hospitalised with the virus, 172 fewer than the day before, and 130 were in intensive care units.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 17,057 people have died from Covid-19 in Austria.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Travel: What Covid rules are in place when visiting Austria this summer?

From entry rules to local Covid-19 restrictions and the latest data, here is what you need to know before visiting Austria in the summer of 2022.

Travel: What Covid rules are in place when visiting Austria this summer?

Austria is a very popular tourist destination, especially during the summer months, with its pristine lakes and beautiful cities ready to receive thousands of travellers.

However, the pandemic is still not over and many tourists are left with several questions when they decide to visit another country.

Here is what you need to know about the Covid-19 situation, rules, and requirements before visiting the Alpine country.

What are the entry rules?

First of all, what are the rules for entering the country? That’s an easy one: there are currently no Covid-19 restrictions for entering the country.

More specifically: there is no need to show proof that you were recently vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 or tested negative for the disease.

You also don’t need to quarantine upon entry or fill in a specific online form.

This could change on short notice, though, in case any variant of concern is found in Europe or further afield. 

Here is the official website where you can find more information in English.

Are there any Covid-19 restrictions?

Austria has lifted most of its coronavirus-related restrictions, and life is almost as it was over two years ago. However, there are still a few rules to keep in mind, especially concerning masks.

There are also some differences when it comes to Vienna and the rest of the country, as Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) chose to stick with the “Viennese way” and keep some restrictions, most notably the mandatory use of masks in public transport.

Currently, masks are no longer mandatory in essential stores or public transport in most of Austria.

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the Covid rules in Austria and Vienna from June 2022

According to the federal government, there is still an FFP2 mask mandate in “vulnerable” settings. These include hospitals, elderly and care homes, and health services.

Vienna has a few more restrictions when it comes to using of masks. In the capital, they are still mandatory in pharmacies, health care, and public transport (including the stations).

Besides the mandatory FFP2 mask usage in the entire country, Vienna also has a PCR test obligation to visitors. There are no longer visitor restrictions, though.

Self-isolation rules: what if I test positive?

In Vienna, the quarantine after a positive test lasts for ten days. It ends automatically if, during the last 48 hours, the person has shown no symptoms. People can test themselves free after five days if the PCR result is negative or a CT value above 30.

In the rest of Austria, people who tested positive but had a mild course of the disease and showed no symptoms for 48 hours can leave quarantine on the fifth day of isolation.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Austria should do if they test positive for Covid

If they test negative, they are free from restrictions.

Still, if they do not get tested or get a CT value below or equal to 30, they go into “traffic restriction” and need to wear a mask and not visit events or gastronomy for the next five days.

Can I take a free Covid-19 test as a tourist? What about a free vaccination?

Technically, yes. With the tests, it can be a bit more complicated, but we wrote a complete guide on how to get free Covid tests in Austria as a tourist.

READ ALSO: How tourists, visitors (and residents) can get free Covid tests

There are still “test streets” and “test boxes” where you can get tested for free without having an Austrian social insurance number. Remember to carry a picture ID and wear an FFP2 mask in those places, though.

As for vaccination, it is also possible to get a Covid-19 vaccine for free and without Austrian health insurance in the country. You will also need a picture ID and to wear a mask.

What if I get Covid-19 before my trip to Austria?

You are not allowed to enter Austria if you know you have Covid-19 – though there are currently no more checks, this falls largely into personal responsibility.

If you need to cancel your trip due to a positive test result, here is what you need to know about your rights.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

Airline companies are not required to refund you or allow you to make changes to your flight for free – unless the ticket you purchased entitles you to these rights.

The same is valid for hotel reservations. Most of them, primarily if you have used an online booking platform, will have different fees, and travellers have additional rights. It is essential to understand each tariff and what they entitle you to.

What is the current situation regarding Covid-19 in Austria?

Coronavirus numbers are rising in Austria, with many experts alerting to a Covid-19 wave, as The Local reported.

On Monday, July 4th, Austria reported 7,745 new coronavirus infections after 60,917 PCR tests. There were 929 hospitals with Covid-19 and 51 people in intensive care units. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 18,798 people have died from the disease in Austria.

Just under 62 percent of the population has all the necessary vaccination doses for a valid “green pass”, according to the Health Ministry.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

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