Austria’s Grand Reopening Brings a Sigh of Relief

It was a long drought, but the time has finally come: On May 19, large sections of the Austrian economy reopened after almost 7 months. Restaurants, cultural institutions, sports- and recreational facilities are once again available to those carrying a “green pass,” certifying that they are vaccinated, tested or have recovered from Covid. This so-called 3-G-rule (“getestet, geimpft oder genesen”) has become the key to re-entering public life. Additionally, guests eating in need to register on site, providing their contact details via QR-code or paper form.

State authorities ensure that restaurants and cafes adhere to the strict 3-G rule./(C) Rathaus Presse-Service/Gruppe Sofortmaßnahmen

The easing of strict regulations was precipitated by encouraging pandemic developments across the country, with daily cases at their lowest since September 2020. Meanwhile, Austria’s vaccination campaign is in full swing: As of May 26, 45% of the Austrian population had received a first jab, and 17% had been fully vaccinated.

With the situation looking up, opening up the hospitality industry is a big step towards relieving the country’s economy. In Vienna, 90% of gastronomic establishments opened their doors, according to the Chamber of Commerce, which, in turn, was a shot in the arm to their suppliers. And there’s more good news: Shortly after reopening, unemployment in Austria dipped under 400,000 for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.

Theory and Practice

While the relief was palpable, the highly anticipated reopening came off to a slow start – possibly due to the highly changeable weather. By the weekend, however, a sort of normalcy had kicked in, and for restaurants all over the country, business was brisk. At Zwettler’s, a traditional Gasthaus in Salzburg’s old town, the landlord was delighted on Saturday: “We’re fully booked during lunchtime and dinner, we can count on our regulars.” Asked about the 3-G rule, he confided he didn’t feel comfortable rigorously checking his customers. “We adhere to the measures” he emphasized, “but I’m not the police.” 

Indeed, entry requirements were monitored more thoroughly by some venues than others, but the majority of businesses complied with regulations. As the Vienna police told Metropole, they inspected around 1,550 establishments in Vienna by Tuesday, resulting in only 32 reported breaches of COVID regulations. Still, high spirits did result in some infractions: Last weekend, violations of the state-mandated curfew were recorded all over Austria. The most prominent cases were in Vienna, where around 1,000 revelers continued celebrating long after bars had closed at 22:00 on Donaukanal and Karlsplatz on Saturday and Sunday night, respectively. The police also had to break up large public gatherings in Klagenfurt and Innsbruck.

Like the First Time

However, most people were cooperative, and on Monday morning, the mood was pleasant at the venerable Café Eiles on Josefstädter Straße. An elderly gentleman sat at a table by the window, enjoying his second Mélange of the day while scanning the QR-code placed in front of him. He showed himself content with the safety measures: “I can very well live with this system. It’s really straightforward – even at my age, I can manage!” he laughed.

The young couple at the next table was equally excited, taking their baby daughter out for the first time: “We’ve been waiting to finally show her our favorite coffeehouse!” Despite the unanimous cheerfulness, the compulsory break for Austrian gastronomy might have left some customers a little rusty: At a nearby table, a middle-aged man took his sweet time deciding on an adequate tip for his waiter, loud enough for everyone in the café to hear. “I’ve almost forgotten how to do this!” he joked.

Schnitzel for the Show

With the nation in a good mood, the government didn’t miss the chance to celebrate their success on Wednesday at popular establishments like the Schweizerhaus in Vienna’s Prater, where Chancellor Kurz and Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger of the ÖVP and the Green  Vice-Chancellor Kogler and State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Andrea Mayer sat down together for lunch.

To celebrate the reopening of the gastronomy on March 19, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (left), Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (second row, left), State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Andrea Mayer and Vice-Chancellor Kogler visited the Schweizerhaus in the Wiener Prater.

As the first week passed without major incidents, the newfound freedom has definitely whetted the public’s appetite for more, and plans for lifting additional restrictions are already in the works: On Monday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) announced on ZIB 2 that outdoor mask requirements as well as distancing rules and closing hours could be eased as early as June 10. Concrete plans will be presented by the government on Friday.