Policy responses for Austria - HSRM


Policy responses for Austria

1.2 Physical distancing

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 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 (see also Section 6.1 Transition measures: measures in other sectors).

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.
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.

Surge of COVID-19 cases

Due to increasing COVID-19 infection rates in five districts in the state of Upper Austria, 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 response to increasing COVID 19 infection rates, the federal government reacted 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. 

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).