Austria’s federal government has reinstated some Covid rules after seeing record infection numbers in the country.
Published: 18 March 2022 20:56 CET
A man is vaccinated at a vaccination station installed at a BILLA Plus (REWE Group) supermarket in Vienna on August 25, 2021 during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)
Austria will reintroduce the FFP2 mask mandate for all indoor areas starting March 23rd, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said on Friday.
The health minister explained that a specific regulation mandating masks should be ready by Wednesday. However, he didn’t rule out or confirm the possibility of a mandate also in schools. The minister said he would clarify the legal issues with the Education Ministry in the coming days.
Rauch stated that the relaxation of measures announced earlier in the month were taken based on case numbers falling, but that scenario has not come about. Additionally, the situation in hospitals is “worrying”, the minister said.
Therefore, the federal government decided to take steps to protect the critical infrastructure in the health and care sector, with a quarantine obligation eased to ensure staff continue operating in hospitals and nursing homes.
Nothing will change regarding the test system, which introduces a monthly limit of 5 PCR tests and 5 antigen tests for residents. However, there is now an official government recommendation to work from home wherever possible.
He added that the experts expect the infection numbers to increase for at least two weeks, with more than 50,000 new cases per day.
Austria this Friday recorded 51,112 new coronavirus cases, according to the Health Ministry. More than 3,000 people are hospitalised with the virus, and 207 patients are in intensive care. Austria still has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe, as fewer than 70 percent of the population are fully vaccinated.
“Only the vaccine prevents a complete collapse in the health sector”, Rauch said, asking people to continue taking the vaccine and supporting the third dose. In addition, he announced there would be a new vaccination campaign throughout the country.
Reopenings came ‘too soon’
Rauch admitted that the easing of measures on March 5th was “too early and too far-reaching”. Last month, the federal government announced the end of most Covid restrictions in the alpine country, including dropping the 3G and 2G rules (vaccinated, recovered, or tested) for entry into most places.
At the same time, it suspended a vaccine mandate as it was set to start checking and giving fines for unvaccinated people by mid-March.
The relaxation of measures was widely criticised in Austria. The capital Vienna announced it would not follow the reopening steps, keeping a 2G rule in gastronomy and the indoor mask mandate.
Resignations with GECKO
During a press conference, the health minister confirmed resignations within the expert corona commission, the so-called GECKO. There had been several rumours in Austrian media that some members were unhappy with the relaxations.
The minister said the head of Austria’s Red Cross, Gerry Foitik, resigned his position this Friday. Rauch apologised to the experts that felt like they had not been heard through the process.
Rauch recently took over as Health Minister after his predecessor, Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens), resigned on March 4th.