CoV on December 15 | Holiday & Travel Rules, Vaccine Approval on Dec. 21

The coronavirus is shaping our lives. Here’s everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Austria on December 15, 2020 – updated regularly.

Reporting on COVID-19 in Austria is brought to you by Benjamin Wolf, Amina Frassl & Daniel El-Sabeh.

Find here the daily coronavirus updates for Austria and Vienna, with everything you need to know about COVID-19.

And if you want to know how Austria will open up after the second lockdown, we’ve got you covered.

Here is a wrap-up of the measures currently in place in Austria, as they were announced, and information about the situation in general.

December 15, 2020

Vaccine News

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will meet on December 21 to issue a recommendation on the approval of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine in the European Union.
    • If the EMA recommends an approval – which seems highly likely – the EU Commission can officially approve it for the entire Union the day after.
    • Vaccination could then start immediately, if health authorities are prepared to roll out the vaccines.
    • Germany has weighed to start vaccinating on December 26, contingent on prior approval of the EMA. Austria has so far announced that it plans to start vaccinating in January.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has released its analysis of the vaccine candidate of Moderna.
    • The data is very promising, showing a strong protection against COVID-19 and likely also against infecting others with the virus while carrying it.
    • The FDA is now expected to approve the Moderna vaccine as early as next week.
    • See below a comparison of cases of COVID-19 in the vaccinated group (red line) and the placebo group (blue line), showing the vaccines high effectiveness of 94%.

News from Austria

  • School holidays in Austria will be prolonged until January 10.
    • The first school day in 2021 will thus be January 11, Monday (not January 7, Thursday, as usual).
    • This measure should ensure that teachers and students can be tested with rapid antigen tests before school starts again.
    • The Austrian government plans to test teachers regularly every two weeks in the coming year 2021. Whether testing for teachers will be mandatory is still an open question.
    • Testing for children and parents will not be mandatory, but “strongly encouraged.”
  • The decree regulating the rules over the Christmas holidays was now published.
    • In its final form, it allows a maximum of 10 people from a maximum of 10 households to meet on December 24 and 25 indoors.
    • On all other days, only a maximum of 6 adults and 6 children from a maximum of 2 households are permitted to meet. What is new is that people will have to wear mask now when meeting in such a setting.
    • Furthermore, mandatory mask-wearing will be expanded to many workplaces that cannot provide plexiglas barriers or sufficient distance between workers.
    • Workers in senior and care homes will now be obliged to do a PCR or rapid antigen test at least twice a week. Patients will also get at least one test a week, as will workers in the healthcare sector.
    • Furthermore, the rules for opening ski resorts on December 24 were also clarified. Cable cars will be allowed to only transport half the number of people, for example.
    • Finally, the list of venues that can open over the holidays was slightly extended, with zoos and botanical gardens having been added to museums and libraries.
  • The decree on travel restrictions valid over the holidays was now published by the Health Ministry.
    • The rules will be valid starting on December 19.
    • As expected, travelers from any risk country will have to enter a 10 day home quarantine upon returning to Austria.
    • This quarantine can be cut short after 5 days by a PCR or rapid antigen test with a negative result.
    • There is a short list of countries that are listed as safe, meaning travelers from there can enter Austria without any restrictions if they can prove they have only been to said countries or Austria in the preceding 10 days:
      • Australia, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Uruguay Vatican.
    • Certain exceptions apply to daily commuters, workers in essential services (e.g. elderly care) and for fulfilling legal obligations (e.g. go to court) or attending immediate family events (e.g. a pregnant partner giving birth or the funeral of a close relative).
    • We will report on further details as the new decree gets published in clear form.
  • The City of Vienna is expanding its free coronavirus test offer and calls on all Viennese to get tested before meeting loved ones during Christmas and the holidays.
    • People can get a free PCR gargling test at the “testing streets” at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion and on the Donauinsel.
      • At both testing sites, people can just walk in or also come with the car.
      • Results are usually available within 24 hours or a little more.
      • Bring your Meldezettel (registration), ID and your e-card or other health insurance card with you.
    • In front of the Austria Center Vienna, near the UN, there is a testing center with free rapid antigen tests that can deliver results within 15-20 minutes.
    • Furthermore, there are “check boxes” across the city where people with cold symptoms can get a free rapid antigen test and, if necessary, also a PCR test.
    • People can also buy and conduct rapid antigen tests at dozens of pharmacies across town.

  • The burden on families increased significantly during the second lockdown.
    • In an Austria-wide survey conducted by SORA on behalf of the Momentum Institute, 58% of families said they were severely burdened.
    • During the first lockdown in the spring, the figure had been 46%.
    • ”Among mothers, it’s significantly more than among fathers, at nearly two-thirds,” said Barbara Blaha, director of the Momentum Institute.
    • Although child care facilities were open during the second lockdown, more than 70% of children were cared for at home
    • “One in three women surveyed worked early mornings or evenings, and one in 10 even worked at night,” Blaha said during an online press briefing yesterday.
    • Around 40% of parents who had completed compulsory school or an apprenticeship said they were unable to provide optimum learning support.
    • Among the working class, unemployment rose to 14% from the first to the second lockdown. About half of the families complained about income losses, especially those with the lowest incomes.
  • In Vienna, the 10-day coronavirus mass test was completed on Sunday.
    • About 235,000 people were tested at the 3 sites, which represents only 13.5 % of those eligible for testing. In Lower Austria about 35% participated in the mass tests.
    • Preparations for the second round in January are already underway.
    • A total of 1,735,034 people in Vienna were eligible to take the test. The capacity limits were therefore not reached, as military commander Kurt Wagner explained.
    • The campaign in Vienna was designed for up to 1.2 million people. At least 592 infected people without symptoms could be detected. A total of 1,515 gargling tests were performed, 725 were negative.
    • In order to attract more people to future mass tests, the government is considering incentives such as handing out €50 in the form of vouchers.
    • At the site in the Messe Wien, after a few days, pre-registration was no longer necessary. Most tests were carried out there – almost 117,000 people took the CoV check there.
    • In the Stadthalle a good 80,000 people were checked, in the Marxhalle a little less than 38,000.
    • Throughout Austria, there were more than 2 million participants in the first series of mass tests, and 4,000 infected persons were found.
  • Health City Councilor Peter Hacker (SPÖ) shared his opinions on the current health situation in the city.
    • For the first round of mass tests, Hacker said: “What we see are big differences between working and non-working class districts. On the big issue of migration, we see that doesn’t matter much.”
    • There will probably be another mass test drive at the beginning of January.
    • The councilor asked people to “minimize risk” before Christmas and use the free testing capacities across the city – the “Schnupfenboxen” (cold boxes) will also be open on December 24 and 31 until 13:00 (there are open all day long the other days).
    • Hacker expects the number of new cases to drop again in the next 10 to 14 days to a level where the Corona traffic light can be switched to orange.
    • Hacker continued to reject mandatory vaccination: “I don’t think it needs the threatening gesture of the state. It is necessary to gain the trust of citizens.”
  • The next mass tests will take place from Jan. 8 to 10.
    • Carinthian Governor Peter Kaiser (SPÖ) does not want to reopen schools after the Christmas vacations as early as Jan. 7, but only after the tests, on Jan. 11.
    • Kaiser said: “To open the schools one day before the tests would be paradoxical.”

Elsewhere in Europe & Around the World

  • The Czech government announced new restrictions following the recent increase in coronavirus infections.
    • Starting Friday, restrictions on businesses and public gatherings will be tightened, Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced tonight.
    • “It was a very difficult decision, because of course we know what impact this has on people’s lives,” Babis, of the populist ANO party, stressed.
    • Only a maximum of six people are allowed to meet indoors and outdoors.
    • A nighttime curfew is in effect.
    • Retailers and service providers will remain open this time with restrictions such as limited customers. Restaurants and Hotels have to shut down.
    • There have been more than 581,000 infections and more than 9,600 deaths since the pandemic began.
  • The Netherlands will be totally locked down as of today.
    • In a speech on Monday evening, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the country will shut down until at least Jan. 18. 
    • Rutte said “We realize how intense this announcement is, certainly just before Christmas,” adding that “2020 is a year of mourning, loss and sorrow for many.”
    • People are urged to stay at home and to avoid visitors.
    • No more than 2 visitors are allowed per day apart from Christmas, when people can meet a maximum of 3 guests.
    • The number of CoV positive tests has been rising steadily, reaching almost 10,000 on Sunday.
    • Hospital rates and deaths have also started to rise again.
  • The hope of being immune to CoV due to passed colds, triggered by other CoV-viruses, could now be disproved by the Cluster of Excellence Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation (PMI) from Kiel.
    • In their study, published in the journal “Immunity”, they show that pre-existing memory cells putatively recognize parts of CoV and launch an immune defense, this immune response is insufficient though.
    • Petra Bacher from the Institute of Immunology at Kiel University: “With coming of age one is more easily exposed to a wider variety of viruses, bacteria etc…,”
    • Bacher continues: “The immunological memory of older people is greater and with it the likelihood that their bodies will respond to a CoV- infection with pre-existing memory cells.”
    • She also states: “We’ve seen that these pre-existing memory cells in people who have not yet had contact with CoV do not generate an optimal response against the virus.”
  • According to a newspaper report, the German government is pressing the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the Biontech-Pfizer CoV vaccine before Christmas.
    • The Federal Chancellery as well as the Ministry of Health demanded internally from the EMA to release the vaccine by December 23.
    • The EMA has so far announced a decision on the vaccine for December 29.
    • In Great Britain, the USA and Canada, the vaccine from Biontech and Pfizer is already approved. There, vaccination campaigns have also already started.
  • Sweden has recorded the highest number of deaths within one month in November since the Spanish flu more than 100 years ago.
    • 8,088 people have died last month, according to the government statistics agency (SCB).
    • “This is the highest number of deaths recorded in the month of November since 1918, the year the Spanish flu broke out,” SCB statistician Tomas Johansson said.
    • In response to rising new infections, the government imposed mandatory restrictions for the first time in mid-November, including on meetings in public and the sale of alcohol.
    • Meetings in private homes, however, are not restricted by the regulation, nor is there a mask requirement.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a 5-day curfew.
    • This is to begin at 21:00 on New Year’s Eve and last until Jan.4.
    • In Turkey, 229 people have died in one day after being infected with the virus, and 29,617 have become newly infected.
  • The number of CoV deaths in the U.S. has surpassed 300,000 according to the Johns Hopkins University.
    • More than 200,000 new cases are being added daily, and on some days more than 3,000 deaths have already been recorded.
    • More than 16.3 million cases of infection have been confirmed since the pandemic began.
    • This means that for every 100,000 people, there are more than 95 deaths.
    • By way of comparison, the figure for Austria is 50.56, while the highest figure is 157.16 in Belgium.
    • On Monday, a large-scale vaccination campaign began with the Biontech vaccine and its partner Pfizer. The active ingredient had received emergency approval.
  • According to the aid organization Oxfam, more than a third of the world’s population has not yet received any CoV-related financial support from public social security systems.
    • A report says, 2.7 billion people around the globe are not receiving any assistance from government social systems to cope with the consequences of the CoV crisis.
    • For the report, Oxfam analyzed the extent to which government welfare systems in 126 low- and middle-income countries provided additional funds during the crisis.
    • According to the data, 41% of the additional safety net programs consisted only of one-time payments, which have since been exhausted.
    • Only 15 countries launched programs lasting longer than 6 months, according to the data.
    • In total, governments around the world spent an additional $11.7 trillion (about 9.6 trillion euros) to combat the consequences of the pandemic, according to Oxfam.
    • Of that, about $9.8 trillion, or 83%, was spent by 36 rich countries, compared with $42 billion, or 0.4%, in 59 low-income countries, it said.
    • At the same time, rich countries’ aid for social protection in developing countries increased by a total of $5.8 billion, the report also said. That is about 5%.


On the next page, you find an overview of all measures currently in place in Austria.

Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history. Photo: Visual Hub

Numbers

For current numbers, check the website of Ministry of Health and the AGES dashboard.

Resources

The City of Vienna has compiled comprehensive information on questions and answers regarding coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease in English.

The Austrian Ministry of Health has put together FAQs on the coronavirus and also provides material to download on how to protect yourself and others from the disease, also in English.

Furthermore, the ministry will constantly update its German-language website with information on the number of people tested and cases of COVID-19 in Austria.

Hotlines

Health advice by telephone1450

If you show symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties) or fear that you are ill, stay at home and dial health number 1450 for further procedures (diagnostic clarification).

Coronavirus hotline AGES+43 0800 555 621

The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) answers questions about the coronavirus (general information on transmission, symptoms, prevention) 24 hours a day at +43 0800 555 621.

VKI hotline for travel law questions+43 0800 201 211

For legal questions concerning trips that have already been booked (e.g. whether a trip can be cancelled free of charge), the experts of the Association for Consumer Information (VKI) provide advice free of charge from Monday to Sunday between 09:00 and 15:00 at +43 0800 201 211.