Policy responses for Austria - HSRM


Policy responses for Austria

1.2 Physical distancing

Measures in response to increase of COVID-19 cases in summer 2020

Due to increasing COVID-19 infection rates from beginning to end of July 2020 in the state of Upper Austria (with  56 new cases reported on July 4),  the state government reacted with regional measures:
• all schools and kindergartens were closed for one week (shortly afterwards the official summer holidays will start),
• mouth nose protection will be obligatory in administrative agencies for clients and staff (e.g. citizen service centres).

In July, the federal government reacted to increasing COVID-19 infection rates with nationwide measures for using facilities of daily needs.

As of July 24, mouth nose protection is obligatory in all indoor grocery stores (supermarkets, petrol station shops), bank branches, post offices and nursing homes, and furthermore in pharmacies and health care facilities.

From September 14 onwards, tighter measures have been (re-)introduced in Austria. The changes have come partly as a consequence of rising infection numbers, and with a total of seven districts marked as yellow (i.e. medium-risk) on the Government’s official pandemic traffic light map of the country, which was originally only meant to prompt localised measures. The following measure are (re-)introduced:
· The obligatory use of mouth-nose-protection has been extended again: It is now required in all shops, in all areas with customer contact, as well as in all service establishments, including for servers in restaurants. No drinks or food may be provided at the counter in bars or restaurants. The latter may remain open until 1 am (unchanged). Museums, exhibitions, libraries, archives and institutions offering leisure activities have been explicitly mentioned as requiring face masks. Visiting indoor events also requires the use of a mouth-nose-protection.
· Additionally, masks are once again mandatory in schools (outside the classroom) for both teachers and students/pupils, independently of the respective alert level according to the Austrian traffic light system (“Corona-Ampel”) in each district (see Section 1.4). During breaks (outside) and during sports classes no mask is required (including indoors).
· Tighter restrictions apply also for public gatherings, limiting them to 50 participants indoors and 100 participants outdoors if no fixed seats are assigned. With fixed seats, the maximum of 1500 indoors, and 3000 outdoors remains applicable, with no mouth-nose-protection required at each person’s seat.

As of September 21, the following changes apply: 
· private encounters and festivities are only allowed for up to 10 people indoors, and for up to 100 people outdoors. The limit applies also to weddings but not to funerals. The same limit is also recommended in private households.
· in restaurants, a maximum of 10 people is allowed to be seated at a table together. Food may be consumed only when being seated at a table, and a mouth-nose-protection is obligatory apart from when being seated. 
· a maximum of 10 persons is allowed for fitness, dance and sports classes indoors.
· a mouth nose protection has to be worn in almost all occasions in closed buildings and at events  For example wearing of masks is required in public transport, cable cars, excursion boats, shops, at fairs and markets both indoors and outdoors, in care homes, hospitals and other health-related institutions for visitors, in pharmacies for staff and visitors, at demonstrations if 1 meter distance cannot be kept, in schools outside the classroom, in hotels in general areas, in public swimming pools, in museums, libraries, and leisure institutions, at events, in indoor and outdoor markets etc. 

Measures in response to surge of cases in autumn and winter 2020

The Austrian Government announced a number of new measures that entered into force on October 23 for at least four weeks, notably including:
• Except for church services, all events without assigned seats will be limited to 6 participants indoors and 12 participants outdoors, including sports classes. Though gatherings in private homes cannot be regulated by law, the government is urging citizens to follow these guidelines at home too.
• Masks are mandatory at all types of events, including outdoors.
• Public events such as sporting and cultural events may continue to take place with a maximum number of 1,000 people inside (previously 1,500), 1,500 people outside (previously 3,000), but only with permanently assigned seats, mouth and nose protection during the entire event and without hospitality. An official permit is required. In the catering trade, a prevention concept is now required for events with 50 or more people.
• Funerals are exempted from the maximum number
• In restaurants, a maximum of 10 people is allowed to be seated at a table together.
• State governments are free to further tighten restrictions depending on the number of newly reported cases, including the option to put municipalities and districts under lockdown, ban all events, prohibit.
• People from entering restaurants or shops, and switch schools to online classes. For instance, on 16 October the municipality of Kuchl (Salzburg) was put under quarantine for a period of 14 days.

On October 31, the Austrian government announced a partial lockdown with stricter measures that apply from November 3 and last until the end of November. The restrictions include:
• A curfew applies from 8 pm to 6 am. Non-co-residing partners and family members may be visited during this time period. Professional reasons are also a valid reason to leave the house.
• Cafes, bars and restaurants will be takeaway only.
• Events will be cancelled (incl. entertainment and cultural events, sports events with the exception of high-profile events, weddings, movie theatres, touristic travel events, exhibitions, congresses, fairs and markets). Exempted are funerals with max. 50 persons, necessary professional events, demonstrations, meetings of political organs and of statutory judicial organs (if not possible to be held digitally), cultural events or rehearsals without audience.
• Meetings of six adults and six children are allowed in public. Though gatherings in private homes cannot be regulated by law, the government is urging citizens to follow these guidelines at home too.
• Hotels will have to close with the exception of work travel.
• Shops will remain open (1 person per 10 square metres).
• Kindergartens and primary schools will remain open, but high schools and universities will switch to online learning.
• Gyms will shut along with museums.
• All offices that can move to home working are urged to do so.
• Visitors’ access to care homes is restricted again. Visitors and staff may enter care home only with a negative PCR (not older than 48 hours) or antigen test (not older than 24 hours).
• Staff in hospitals may enter only if a negative test is carried out every week (antigen test or molecular biological test).
See law under: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/eli/bgbl/II/2020/463/20201101

On November 14, the Austrian chancellor announced a second nationwide lockdown as of November 17, following a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. The lockdown is to remain in effect until December 6 and will replace the partial shutdown and current 8 pm to 6 am curfew (see above). The measures include:

• Outside, a 1 metre distance needs to be kept from people not living in the same household; inside (in addition to keeping distance) a mouth nose protection is required. One metre distance has to be kept also on public transport where possible. In cars, two people from different households may go together but per row a maximum of 2 people is allowed (wearing a mouth nose protection). Children up to 6 years of age are exempt from the obligation to use a mouth nose protection. Also, a 1 metre distance does not need to be kept on airplanes, when providing care, within school classes/groups, when there is a physical division, when caring for people with disabilities, and under the water.
• People may only leave their homes for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping, work, supporting others, or exercise. People may leave their homes for official or judicial proceedings that cannot be postponed, as well as for participation in elections provided in referendums or surveys. In case of care for children under the age of 18 years and in case of emergencies these restrictions do not apply.
• All non-essential businesses, including bars, restaurants (except canteens), cafés and hairdressers must close. Essential businesses, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, newsagents, gas stations, and car repair shops may open between 06:00 and 19:00. Where these open, 10 m2 needs to be reserved per client.
• Hotels are closed and may open only in exceptional cases (e.g. in emergencies or when people travel for work-related reasons).
• It is still possible to participate in religious meetings. Funerals are limited to 50 persons.
• In the artistic area, further rehearsals are permitted (without audiences). Professional sports may continue when a detailed plan for preventing infections is provided.
• Care homes are closed for visitors, except for visits to people with palliative care needs, and one visitor per resident per week (or two per week if a resident has special needs). For visits an antigen test (not older than 24 hours) or a molecular biological test (not older than 48 hours) needs to be provided. If that is not possible, a FFP2 mask (Austrian context: CPA mask) or similar standard needs to be worn. New residents may also only enter a care home when such a test is provided. Entry regulations also apply for non-medical external service providers. Care homes need to provide a detailed plan for preventing infections.
• Patient visits in hospital are not allowed, except if the sick or injured person is admitted for more than seven days, where one visitor per week is allowed (exemptions exist for expecting mothers). Visitor restrictions do not apply for patients with special needs (two people per week allowed) or for patients with palliative care. Hospitals need to provide a detailed plan for preventing infections.
• Staff in hospital and long-term care facilities must have an antigen or molecular biological test once a week.

On November 25, the regulations regarding the lockdown in place since mid-November were further specified: relatives (include siblings, parents, and own children) as well as persons with whom one is regularly in contact (at least once a week) may meet during the lockdown. The regulation was specified with the intention that only one person meets people from another household at one time. Regulations were specified regarding the closure of shops for essential services: arms may be acquired only for professional purposes (e.g. hunters). Furthermore, any services that do not allow social distancing (e.g. massages, hairdressing) are completely forbidden. This also applies for private households, while other services (e.g. repair services) may be carried out.

On December 2, the Austrian government announced an ease of some substantial restrictions after the second nationwide lockdown. As of December 7, the ease of restrictions include:
• the curfew is limited from whole-time to 8pm to 6am
• meetings of six adults and six children from two households are allowed in public. There will be an extension to ten adults from several households during the Christmas holidays and on New Years Eve.
• the non-essential businesses excluding gastronomy and hotel businesses re-open their shops with the limitation of one client per 10 square meters. Re-opening of hotels and restaurants will probably start at January 7.
• kindergartens, primary and secondary schools start again with regular face-to-face learning. Pupils from the age of 10 have to wear a mouse-nose-protection during the class. High schools and universities continue with online learning.
• museums and public libraries are allowed to re-open with the limitation of one person per 10 square meters
- outdoor sport activities will re-open at December 24. Indoor sport facilities remain closed.
• after entering Austria from a risk country (14 day incidence higher than 100) a 10-day quarantine is obligatory as of December 19. A negative PCR test after five days in quarantine reduces the quarantine time.

Coronavirus regulation for Christmas and third lockdown thereafter

The Austrian Government reworked its pandemic restrictions for the Christmas period on several occasions before Christmas. On 15th / 16th December it was announced that for Christmas (24th and 25th December) rules for private gatherings would be eased (not 26 as originally foreseen), allowing for up to ten people from ten households to meet. Other rules, such as mask-wearing, were also tightened, e.g. requiring face masks to be worn at all private indoor gatherings (except on 24th and 25th December). Originally, it had been announced on 15th December that the winter school break would be extended until January 11 to keep schools closed for longer and give students, parents and teachers the opportunity to get themselves tested for COVID-19 as part of a new mass screening campaign on January 17-18. Also, shops, libraries and museums were originally meant to remain open. Restrictions to leave the house between 8 pm and 6 am would apply, but skiing would be allowed with some restrictions on capacities for cable cars and other means of transportation in skiing resorts.
Details may be found in the Third Law on COVID-19 Protection Measures from 16th December, available here: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/BgblAuth/BGBLA_2020_II_566/BGBLA_2020_II_566.html  

Yet, on 22nd December changes were passed for a renewed (third) lockdown to start on 26th December and to last at least until 18th January. Essential services may remain open. Shops, non-essential services, hotels, libraries, zoos and gastronomy remain closed and events are not allowed to take place, yet skiing resorts may open with further restrictive regulations (e.g. obligatory use of FFP2 masks) in addition to capacity limits and requirements for concepts for preventing COVID-19 infections. Ice-skating remains allowed as well. All schools move to distance learning at least until 18th January. The regulations have led to controversies regarding the opening of skiing resorts.
From 26th December 2020 onwards, personal contacts are limited to no more than two households and people are only allowed to leave their homes for the following reasons:
• Emergencies
• Help to others including family members and family obligations
• Essential needs such as: (a) contact with partner or close family members or other close friends with whom there is weekly contact, (b) use of essential services, (c) use of health care services or SARS-CoV-2 screening programmes, (d) need for accommodation, (e) religious reasons (e.g. cemetery visits, or individual visits to religious places), (f) care for animals.
• professional or educational reasons if required
• physical exercise or mental health
• administrative steps that cannot be postponed
• elections
Some exceptions apply for professional sportsmen and sportswomen, for children and people with disabilities. For details see 2nd COVID-19 Emergency law (in German): https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/BgblAuth/BGBLA_2020_II_598/BGBLA_2020_II_598.html

With potentially more infectious mutation variants of SARS-CoV-2 having been detected during December 2020 and January 2021 in Austria, as of 25th January, the following regulations apply in everyday life:

• The use of FFP2 masks is obligatory in public transport and in shops, at indoor and outdoor markets, as well as when using services such as at ambulatory care providers, public services, when using take-away services, and in hotels (if they are open e.g. for business purposes), or when people from different households ride in the same car. Children up to the age of 6 years do not have to wear a mask. Children from 6 to 14 years and pregnant women are also exempt from this regulation and may wear a standard mouth-nose protection instead.  At work, only a standard mouth nose protection must be worn.
• Curfew continues to apply from 8pm to 6 am.
• FFP2 masks are available in shops for a low price (ca. EUR 0,60) for the general population. For vulnerable groups (e.g. homeless people, people with low income), FFP2 masks are being distributed for free via charitable organisations.
• A distance of 2 metres (instead of 1 metre) has to be kept when meeting people from another household, except for close family members, a partner and individual close friends with whom regular (weekly) contact exists.
• Hotels remain closed (except for business travellers) as well as restaurants (except for take-away services and in canteens e.g. in schools or care homes), zoos, botanical gardens, museums and libraries.
• Outdoor sports facilities remain open, such as skiing resorts, ice-skating grounds, or cross-country skiing areas. An FFP2 mask is obligatory in cable cars in skiing resorts. A distance of 2 metres needs to be kept otherwise.

With SARS-CoV-2 infection numbers still not going down, Austria’s schools remain closed (at least) until 8th February in Vienna and Lower Austria, and until 15th February in the rest of the country, due to different timing of school holidays in the country’s nine states. School holidays were anticipated in Styria and Upper Austria by one week.

Despite incidence rates remaining at around 100 cases per 7 days (per 100.000), Austria eased its nationwide coronavirus lockdown as of February 8:
• Non-essential shops reopened with an FFP2 mask requirement for all customers, and a requirement of 20 m2 per customer (including in supermarkets). Consumption of food and drinks is not allowed in shopping centres.
• Hairdressers and similar service providers where no distance may be kept, may reopen. Negative COVID tests carried out at a testing site (not older than 48 hours) are required for customers, available for free in selected pharmacies across the country (antigen test). Exemptions apply for people with a SARS-CoV2 infection in the past 6 months (upon showing a medical certificate or an antibody test confirmation).
• Museums and zoos as well as botanical gardens may reopen with an FFP2 mask and 2 metre distancing requirements for all visitors (indoors and outdoors).
• Hotels and restaurants will stay closed.
• Indoor sports continue to be forbidden, while outdoor sports are allowed.
• Regulations on (FFP2) mask wearing as described above remain in place

Measures in Tyrol

On 8th February, in light of the spread of the South African variant in the state of Tyrol, the national government had issued a travel warning for Tyrol for all citizens. This comes at a time when school holidays are still ongoing in the country (except in Vienna and Lower Austria), and with skiing resorts remaining open. In parallel, the state of Tyrol announced that using ski lifts would be possible only with an antigen tests (max. 48 hours old), and increased mass testing in severely affected regions in Tyrol. Also, Tyrol’s provincial government called for restricted mobility in the population.
The federal government imposed a quarantine for Tyrol from 12th February onwards (except Eastern Tyrol, which is geographically separated), even though Tyrol’s provincial government had opposed the idea of a province-wide quarantine in talks with the national government on how to contain the variant. From 12th to 22nd February (until further prolonging of the measure) people will be allowed to leave Tyrol only with a negative antigen test (max. 48 hours old).

Different measures in April and March 2021 in the federal states

• In Vorarlberg, due to a relatively stable incidence rate, gastronomy, culture and sports reopened on 15th March 2021.
• By contrast, on 1st April 2021 stricter rules came into force for Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland: Shops (as well as zoos, libraries, museums etc.) are closed; Physical services (e.g. hairdressers) close down; the prohibition of leaving the house is expanded to 24 hours/day (compared to 8 pm to 6 am for the rest of Austria) and only one household and one person are allowed to meet.
• While these stricter rules were lifted in Burgenland on 19th April 2021, they are expected to remain in place (at least) until 2nd May in Vienna and Lower Austria.
• After the Easter holidays, schools remained closed in Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland except for cases where no other care is possible for pupils. This regulation is still in place until 25th April 2021 in Vienna and Lower Austria, but was lifted in Burgenland on 19th April 2021 despite high ICU occupation.

For laws see the Federal Ministry of Health’s website: https://www.sozialministerium.at/Informationen-zum-Coronavirus/Coronavirus---Rechtliches.html (accessed on 7th April 2020).
COVID 19 Act: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=20011078 (accessed on 8th April 2020).

On April 6, the staged exit strategy for the social distancing measures was communicated by the federal government, starting with the re-opening of smaller shops as well as DIY markets and garden centres after the Easter holidays (from 13 April) followed by bigger shops and malls at the beginning of May. The use of face masks remains compulsory in all stores and in public transport. Schools and universities will stay closed at least until mid-May. Re-opening of hotels and restaurants will be re-evaluated at the end of April and will probably start by mid-May. However, until April 30, people are only allowed to leave their home to do work which cannot be postponed or cannot be carried out from home (to be agreed with the employer), to do essential shopping or to help others. If people go to work, employers have to take measures to protect their employees’ health. Hospitals and care facilities are completely closed for visitors. Walks or doing sports in the open air are allowed under the condition to keep a minimum distance from other people of at least 1 metre.

On April 21, the government announced to ease a number of physical distancing measures. This includes the following regulations:

• from May 1 onwards all services (e.g. hairdressers, massage services) and shops will be allowed to re-open (e.g. including shops larger than 400 square metres, which remain closed until that date)
• cafés, restaurants and bars will be allowed to re-open as of May 1, with opening times restricted until 11 p.m.
• religious services may be held from May 15 onwards
• schools will open stepwise from May 15 onwards
• as of May 1, it is allowed to meet extended family members (or friends).

On April 28, the government announced to further ease COVID-19 restrictions in May in light of the low number of new infections and low reproduction number.  The lockdown will be progressively lifted as of May 1, almost seven weeks after the restrictions were put in place (March 16). People who do not live in the same household must are allowed to meet but must keep 1 meter distance in public areas. Meetings of more than ten people are also prohibited in public. Up to 30 people may participate at funerals. Restaurants may open again on May 15 with a distance of 1 meter between tables. Only four adults and their kids may share one table. Tables must be reserved in advance and there is no free choice of seat. In addition, waiters have to wear masks. It was also announced on 28 April that hotels and leisure facilities may open again on 29 May. As of May 30, the limit with one person per 10 square meter in shops, services (customer area) and museums is abolished. Further, on open-air markets the use of a mouth-nose protection is no longer required.

From June 15 onwards, mouth nose protection will be obligatory only in public transport, and in health-related institutions (e.g. pharmacies), and service institutions where keeping 1 metre of distance is not possible (e.g. hairdressing services). Employees in restaurants continue to be obliged to wear mouth-nose-protection. While since beginning of May restaurants and bars were allowed to be open until 11 pm, opening hours are extended until 1 am as of mid-June. In addition, more than four people will be allowed to sit together at a table in a restaurant or bar. Further ease of restrictions regarding schools are expected. Since July 20, the Austrian federal railway company will be able to impose a fine of EUR 40 on anyone who does not comply with the train staff's request to wear a mask and expel passengers who continue to violate this requirement.
As of July 1, indoor events are allowed with up to 250 people, and outdoor events with up to 500 people. A COVID-19 prevention plan has to be prepared, and a person in charge of the prevention plan needs to be nominated.

As of August 1, the maximum number of people attending events will be increased to 500 people for indoor events, and 750 people outdoor. Also, from that date onwards events with more people (1000 indoor, 1250 outdoor) are allowed if the local administration agrees, taking the epidemiological situation at local level and local health capacity into consideration. In the latter case, a prevention plan needs to be presented at least four weeks prior to the event.

For laws see the Federal Ministry of Health’s website: https://www.sozialministerium.at/Informationen-zum-Coronavirus/Coronavirus---Rechtliches.html (accessed on 7th April 2020).

COVID 19 Act: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=20011078 (accessed on 8th April 2020).

Physical distancing measures were first communicated at the end of February. According to the new federal guidelines people should not see a doctor but contact the hotline 1450 if they suspect that they have a COVID-19 infection. Testing of suspected COVID-19 cases should be conducted during home visits. Social distancing and hygiene measures were initially only recommended but became quickly mandatory. On 10th of March outdoor events were limited to a maximum of 500 people and indoor events to 100 people. On the same day, universities closed and started to operate via online teaching. Further, the government issued recommendations to reduce contact with hospital patients as well as to keep a distance of at least 2 metres between people. Working from home was recommended whenever possible.

On March 16, a comprehensive package of measures was announced by the federal government. The package included complete closure of universities, research institutions, primary and secondary schools as well as kindergartens yet with care continuously being offered for children with parents in critical or key professions. All non-essential shops, as well as restaurants, bars and cafes, were closed.

On March 16, the federal government also announced a curfew for the whole populations starting on midnight March 16. Together with the amendments taken in the following weeks, leaving the house is only permitted for the following purposes: 1) aiding people in urgent need; 2) providing care and support to people in need; 3) necessary daily needs incl. grocery shopping (if a distance of at least one meter can be kept) and funerals if only a small number of people attend; 4) work engagements and activities that cannot be delayed or carried out from home and if a distance of one metre can be kept (unless special protective equipment is available); 5) going outside alone or with persons living in the same household (keeping a distance of at least 1 meter).

On March 19, opening hours for essential shops (e.g. supermarkets) were limited to 7pm and playgrounds and parks were partially closed (with regional differences). On March 20, the above-mentioned measures were extended until April 13. On March 20, working from home became mandatory except for employees whose presence at the workplace is necessary (in agreement with their employer). On March 21, rehabilitation facilities closed (except for indispensable medical measures after acute medical treatment as well as for support services for general hospitals). Furthermore, federal states started to close retirement and nursing homes for visitors.

On March 30, the federal government announced that it was mandatory to wear protective face masks (“surgical masks”) during shopping, as of April 6. On April 6, the mandatory wearing of face masks was extended to public transport. People belonging to high-risk populations are requested to stay at home and not to go to work, and have been provided with leave regulations and a salary replacement scheme (for both the employer and the employee).


For laws see the Federal Ministry of Health’s website: https://www.sozialministerium.at/Informationen-zum-Coronavirus/Coronavirus---Rechtliches.html (accessed on 7th April 2020).

COVID 19 Act: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=20011078 (accessed on 8th April 2020).