Compulsory schools, retail, body-based service providers, museums and libraries – yesterday the government pinned the previously indicated opening steps, which are to follow the three-week hard lockdown on December 7th. At the same time, the turquoise-green Corona quartet, in view of the falling but still very high number of infections, left no doubt that there was some risk involved.
“The next phase will be a balancing act,” said Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (VP). Because it is clear that even after the hard lockdown “the risk of infection remains extremely high” and most infections would occur in the private sphere. At the same time, the aim is to enable people to have “a worthy and nevertheless reasonably safe Christmas”. On public holidays including New Year’s Eve, up to ten people from different households can come together (see page 3).
Less intensive care patients
Health Minister Rudi Anschober (Grne) explained why, despite the slow downward movement, yesterday there were 3972 new infections, the situation could be eased. The number of Covid intensive care patients in Austria’s hospitals has been falling slightly for a week (minus five percent).
With the lockdown “it was possible to avert an overload”. The reproduction factor of infected people is 0.87 below 1, the weekly prognosis for the daily new cases is around 2000. For the next few weeks, Anschober continued to appeal to the self-discipline of citizens. The “main problem” is still the many corona deaths, 121 were reported yesterday. And a flu wave is waiting for the hospitals, and “many postponed operations have to be rescheduled quickly”.
This time, the government wants to avoid a mistake that contributed to the sharp rise in corona cases in the summer. Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (VP) announced “very strict border controls” before Christmas. Apart from exceptions for commuters and business travelers, there should be strict quarantine regulations for travelers from all neighboring countries until January 10th (ten days, free days after five days). The background: In September, a third of the new infections were due to returnees, mainly from the Western Balkans. That is “not a reproach”, but the reality of an “international, diverse and export-oriented country” like Austria, said Kurz.
Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens) took up the fact that in addition to the catering and hotel industry until Christmas and beyond there were groups that continued to live in a hard lockdown. He is aware that cultural workers are “pushing onto the stage”. Postscript: “But it doesn’t work yet.” After all, the Minister of Sports had some comforting news for the ski-loving compatriots: From December 24th, the local ski slopes will open for day-trippers. There should be transport quotas for the gondola operation. Of course there won’t be aprs-ski and hut magic this year.
Christmas and New Year for ten
- Private meetings: The appeal to avoid social contact as far as possible remains. During the day there is more freedom for meetings. A maximum of six adults and six children from two households are allowed to meet. There are exceptions for December 24th, the two Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve: on these days up to ten people can meet, even after 8 p.m.
- Exit restrictions: From Monday, the exit restrictions only apply between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Spending time outdoors is only permitted during this time if it is necessary for the following reasons: for professional purposes, to cover the basic needs of daily life, to help other people, in emergencies and for exercise in the fresh air. A distance of one meter from other people is to be kept in public spaces, and in public interiors it is also mandatory to wear a mask.
- School, university, kindergarten: Compulsory school pupils (elementary school, lower level AHS, middle school) switch back to face-to-face lessons until the Christmas holidays; from the age of ten, masking is required. High school graduates and school leavers are also being taught at school again. All other pupils and students stay in distance learning, but there is an hourly opportunity for face-to-face lessons. Teachers are given FFP2 masks. Children’s gardens go into regular operation under strict hygiene requirements.
- Trade and services: The trade is allowed to reopen, and all services can be offered again – but without consumption (hairdressers, masseurs, etc.). A mask is mandatory and in customer areas there is a restriction of ten square meters per customer. The police will check more. Next week museums and libraries can open again, zoos then on December 24th.
- Limits: Travel abroad is to be largely prevented by strict border controls and quarantine rules from December 19. All countries in which the 14-day incidence of new infections is more than 100 per 100,000 inhabitants are considered risk areas. This is currently roughly all of the neighboring countries. Anyone entering Austria from such a country – regardless of whether they are returning or visiting – has to be in quarantine for ten days. Free testing by means of a PCR test is possible after five days. The regulation applies until January 10th. There are exceptions for commuters.
- Gastronomy and hotels: All restaurants and hotels will remain closed until at least January 7th, rooms may only be booked for business trips that cannot be postponed. The requirements for reopening depend on the infection rate. Local can deliver food and drinks without any time limit, food can be picked up between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Picking up open alcoholic beverages is prohibited – this puts a stop to punch stalls such as those currently operated by some cafes.
- Events, culture: Events are still prohibited – from cultural and sporting events to private celebrations (birthdays, weddings). Christmas markets cannot take place either. Cultural institutions and cinemas should be able to reopen from January 7th, subject to conditions.
- Skiing and Sports: Ski lifts and cable cars are allowed to open for recreational purposes from December 24, subject to safety regulations, as can outdoor sports facilities. Individual sport is allowed, contact sports are also prohibited. Indoor sports facilities and leisure facilities remain closed to amateur athletes. Top athletes are excluded. For the time being, there is no time horizon for fitness studios, bathrooms, etc. to open.
- Church services, religion: The practice of religion is allowed. The religious communities themselves determine safety rules; in the interior, masks and distance are mandatory. Whether and how Christmas masses will take place is still open. A maximum of 50 people are allowed to attend funerals, marriages
at the registry office are only possible in exceptional cases.
Germany is pleased with the quarantine rules
In neighboring Germany in particular, the reactions to the announcement of the new winter tourism rules were positive. Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Sder, who recently warned several times against a repetition of “Ischgl”, was delighted. “Even if it is difficult: safety comes first. The holidays shouldn’t become a risk, ”he tweeted, assessing the measures as“ correct and understandable ”.
The German Minister of Health Jens Spahn was also relieved. Everyone still had the experiences of February and March when the virus spread through those returning from skiing holidays, recalled Spahn. The quarantine requirement for travelers is therefore to be welcomed.
In Austria too, the reactions were partly positive. Upper Austria’s governor Thomas Stelzer (VP) was pleased that easing steps were possible. “That gives us a ray of hope for the upcoming Christmas,” he said. He called for disciplined action in order not to slip into a new lockdown. He assured the companies of support. Stelzer particularly welcomed the opening of the schools: “Every day our children receive education counts,” said the governor.
SP leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner called for strict security concepts for opening schools and retailers in view of the still high number of cases. With the opening of the compulsory schools she sees her demands fulfilled, now the teachers have to be tested regularly and equipped with masks.
The “most positive” is that the compulsory schools are resuming regular operations, said Neos vice club boss Nikolaus Scherak. However, the Neos strongly criticized the inability to plan for those entrepreneurs who are not allowed to open. Furthermore, they cannot understand the strict entry regulations, which mean that around half a million Austrians abroad are banned from entering the country.
FP chairman Norbert Hofer again criticized the fact that the opening of the trade was too late and that there was now a threat of a rush of customers. Gastronomy and the hotel industry do not get the chance to open operations under clear rules. The FP boss sees the opening of the ski lifts as positive, although it is not clear why it is so late.
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