Two weeks after the first cases of coronavirus were diagnosed in Austria, the situation in Europe has gone from worrisome to grave. Italy has been on lockdown since March 9, 2020, spurring other governments, businesses, organizations and individuals into action – also in Austria.
For a wrap-up of current measures and developments, check out our current Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna article, with daily updates.
Here is a wrap-up of the measures and developments as they happened in March 2020 in Austria.
March 31, 2020:
- The Austrian Sora Institute will be doing a case study of coronavirus prevalence in Austria by testing 2,000 statistically representative but randomized households, starting tomorrow. Such studies have long been recommended to get a better picture of the true extent of the virus.
- Grocery shopping will change this week. Starting on Wednesday, masks will be distributed in front of supermarkets and wearing them will be mandatory while inside. Furthermore, people will only be allowed to enter the shops one by one and new signs on the ground will make distancing even clearer.
- The Medical University in Innsbruck is planning antibody tests in Ischgl, Tyrol, one of Austria’s coronavirus hotspots. These will help to determine the spread of the virus and whether something like local herd immunity may be emerging already.
March 30, 2020:
- In a press conference today, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) announced a raft of new measures and warned emphatically that “we’re only at the beginning of a marathon.”
- Face masks covering mouth and nose will become mandatory in supermarkets – and recommended for the public sphere – for everybody, additional to the 1-meter distance rule. Supermarkets will ensure distribution of masks for the population, prospectively starting this Wednesday.
- More protection for vulnerable groups
- Ensure that measures are followed consistently across the country.
- In the same press conference, Vice-chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens) thanked everybody who lives in Austria for following the strict measures, saying “all of you are life savers.” Kogler stressed that in Austria, we currently live through “the calm before the storm.”
- According to Kogler, protecting mouth and nose in the public sphere is crucial to bring the infection rate down.
- Kogler stressed that it is “our responsibility to protect others,” otherwise “we will very soon break the capacities of the health care systems.”
- Current measures will not be eased before Easter and are also not likely to be eased quickly after Easter.
- Austria’s Minister of Health Rudolf Anschober (Greens) emphasized that we need to bring the exponential trend of new infections down – expressed by the number R, showing how many people get infected by every virus-carrying person.
- Anschober announced new measures, information material and support for vulnerable groups, i.e. older people and those with pre-existing health conditions.
- People living in Austrian belonging to either of these groups will get a special permission to keep working from home, with the state shouldering parts of their wage costs.
- There will also be new measures to ensure the 1-meter distance rule is followed in supermarkets.
- The government will stop touristic use of hotels and start working on concepts to repurpose some of those for medical purposes, if the need arises.
- The government is also working on increasing the number of coronavirus tests and introduce antibody tests – showing who had the virus already – as soon as they are ready.
- Chancellor Kurz (ÖVP) also announced sample coronavirus testing of 2,000 people living in Austria, giving us a better picture of the spread of the virus among the population at large. The next major press conference with updates will take place on Monday in a week, April 6.
- Austria’s Minister of the Interior Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) stressed that 95% of Austrians are following regulations, but that there have also been infractions, which endanger all of us. The police will prosecute these offenses and has already penalized more than 2,800 people.
- Austrian Airlines delivered 14 million masks to Vienna, ready for distribution to the population in the coming days.
- The Donauinselfest, Europe’s biggest open air concert festival, was postponed to September 18-20.
March 29, 2020:
- Austria’s Finance Minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP) announced that the budget for short-time working schemes (Kurzarbeit) will be increased from €400 million to €1 billion and that companies can get bridge loans from banks for paying their employees until the AMS pays.
- For some who have to stay at home now, home itself is not a secure place – especially women. If you are at risk or have experienced domestic violence or know anyone who has, call the women’s helpline 0800/222-555 or check http://www.frauenhelpline.at/. There is no reason to stay in an abusive household, even now – safe houses for victims of violence across the country can accommodate you.
March 28, 2020:
- The rate of new positively tested cases of coronavirus in Austria decreased, for the first time markedly, in the last 4-day period, to 14% per day.
- Vienna’s biggest hospital, the AKH, has set up three wards for COVID-19 patients to increase readiness for a future wave of more serious cases.
- The federal state of Lower Austria will fly in 281 around-the-clock caregivers from Romania and Bulgaria. The border closures within the EU have made it hard for many caregivers and workers from the Central and Eastern European member states to travel to Austria every month.
March 27, 2020:
- Austria’s Minister for Health, Rudolf Anschober (Greens), disclosed that he expects a peak of the coronavirus between mid-April and mid-May.
- Both he and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) underlined that the situation is still very serious.
- The current measures will stay in place and, circumstances permitting, be gradually lifted after April 14 to give way to a “new normal” until effective medication or a vaccine will be found.
- The government’s economic security package for independent workers, creatives and small companies – the Härtefallfonds, administered by the WKÖ – will be open for applications starting today at 17:00.
- If granted, a first payment of €1,000 should be released quickly.
- For the next three months (April, May, June), an additional maximum payment of €2,000 per month can be disbursed.
March 26, 2020:
- This week is seen as a crucial one in Austria’s fight against the coronavirus. The country has a total of 2,547 intensive care units (ICUs), 980 of which can be made available for COVID-19 patients – a high number in international comparisons.
- Out of currently 5,888 coronavirus cases in Austria, 540 patients had to be hospitalized and another 90 are in intensive care (that’s 1.5% of the total, markedly lower than the 5% in northern Italy).
- Austrian hospitals have a total bed capacity of 64,000 and more than 12,000 additional beds for mild coronavirus cases were set up in recent weeks (e.g. 6,000 in Vienna’s Messe exposition hall).
- If current trend holds and the growth in cases can be reduced to 9% per day in the medium term, Austria’s ICU capacity should suffice until April 23.
- The Wien Museum has started a “Corona Collection.” In two phases, photos and objects depicting the current extraordinary period shall be collected and turned into an exhibition.
- In the first phase, Viennese are called on to send photos of currently important everyday objects via e-mail to [email protected], based on the question: “The outbreak of the coronavirus and the measures taken against it are radically changing life in Vienna. How will we look back on this time in the coming years, decades and centuries?”
- In a second phase, Viennese can send objects to the museum, 500 of which will be selected and form the core of a long-term exhibition. As Matti Bunzl, director of the museum said: “This will be the collection that can tell the story of what happened here in hundreds of years.”
- Since March 15, the number of unemployed in Austria has increased by 153,100 people to a total of 400,000. Over 51,000 workers lost their job in the food service industry, 19,200 in the construction sector. While substantial, economists cautioned that long-term effects of the current crisis are still very hard to discern and that instruments like Austria’s Kurzarbeit (reduced working hours, with the state paying a substantial part of salaries) can dent the impact.
March 25, 2020:
- The Austrian Red Cross (ÖRK) has emerged as a crucial partner in the coronavirus response strategy of the federal government:
- The ÖRK purchased protective equipment, including 20 million surgical masks and 300,000 protective overalls, for €116 million for the Ministry of Health – the first 5 million masks will already be delivered coming Saturday.
- Today, the Red Cross also launched the “Stopp Corona” app that acts as a contact diary in which personal encounters are recorded as “digital handshake” by your smartphone and stored anonymously. If a person falls ill with COVID-19, everyone who has had contact with them in the past 48 hours is automatically notified and asked to isolate themselves. Data protection is “still a top priority,” say spokespeople.
- Austria’s public authorities and institutions have also made a major effort to provide official information in other languages, such as English, Türkçe und Bosanski-Hrvatski-Srpski.
March 24, 2020:
- The City of Vienna has set up the new platform “Freiwillige Wien” for volunteers willing to help out during the coronavirus crisis. You can register under www.diehelferwiens.at or get more information (in German) on the city’s coronavirus website.
- The city also established a special helpline for senior citizens who need aid or assistance, for example for buying groceries or getting their medication: +43 01 4000 4001
- The Ministry for Agriculture has set up the platform “Die Lebensmittelhelfer” to find workers for the upcoming spring harvest. So far, 7,000 people signed up. Austria’s farming sector usually relies heavily on workers from Central and Eastern Europe, many of which now stay at home.
- Austria’s Minister for Health Rudolf Anschober (Greens) announced today that COVID-19 testing capacities in the country have increased from 1,000-1,500 tests a day in 10 labs to now 2,000-4,000 tests a day in 20 labs. A further increase is envisaged, with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) maintaining that with enough resources, up to 15,000 tests a day could be performed.
March 23, 2020:
- The Federal Ministry of Justice answered frequently asked questions in a press release here (in German): judicial proceedings are still ongoing, albeit restricted. Court appearances are not one of the three permitted reasons to leave the house, and thus not expected.
- Austrian Airlines grounded its fleet until April 19 due to world-wide travel restrictions. Customers with tickets booked for flights before April 19 can rebook their flights free of charge or be transferred to another airline, if possible. However, repatriation for some is still possible: see below!
- Stranded Austrians and people with a valid residence permit in Austria can now register for repatriation flights back to Vienna via heimflug.austrian.com. More than 1,300 people were already repatriated by Austrian Airlines.
March 22, 2020:
- To ensure continuous operations, small groups of employees of essential organizations have started to self-isolate at their workplace – so far, the technical core staff of Vienna’s main power provider Wien Energie and the public broadcaster ORF have taken such measures.
- The City of Vienna created a coronavirus explainer video for children (see below), which already reached more than 3 million people. And it also proves popular abroad – Germany, Romania and Hungary have requested to use video as well, which Vienna City Hall gladly approved.
March 21, 2020:
- Over the last couple of weeks, the Austrian Federal Army (Bundesheer) has been distributing FFP3-flu masks from a national stockpile of 1.6 million masks which was set up for the bird flu in 2006. After extensive tests, the masks have been found to be functional and are being passed on to health institutions across the country.
- This weekend, two Austrian Airline planes will transport 130 tons of protective gear from China to Austria. Hospitals in Tyrol and South Tyrol will have priority access to the equipment.
- Austria has increased its testing capacity for COVID-19 more than threefold in the last week: The number of daily tests rose from a total of 885 on March 14 to 2,932 tests on March 21. Public broadcaster ORF now also provides a dashboard on the situation of the virus in the country.
- The Austrian region of Tyrol faces increasingly harsh criticism for its handling of the early outbreak of the virus. Particularly many ski guests from Scandinavia infected themselves with the disease while local authorities downplayed the risk of an infection, even after first isolated cases had appeared in Ischgl and other skiing hotspots now under quarantine.
March 20, 2020:
- Chancellor Kurz announced in a press conference that the federal government will prolong the measures undertaken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until Easter Monday, April 13.
- In a novel cooperation with telecomm companies, the federal government can now issue urgent messages for the providers to send to all their clients, such as updates on the quarantine.
- The German government finally allowed the truck carrying 240,000 face masks to Austria to proceed. The truck had been stopped at the Swiss border due to a ban on the export of protective gear that the German government had passed last Wednesday.
- The chief of the Vienna Police announced that 500 people have been fined for disobeying the 1-meter rule. They will possibly face a fine of up to a €100.
March 19, 2020:
- Austria’s Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) underlined that most parks, public gardens and playgrounds are still accessible and should continue to be so. This, however, depends entirely on the collaboration of the population, who are called to respect the 1-meter distance rule to everybody not living in your own household.
- The Austrian Health Ministry developed a dashboard on the status of the coronavirus in Austria, modeled on the gold standard Singapore tracking board. It shows all current cases, their status, location, the development, how many people were tested, age ranges, and much more.
- The European Commission announced that foreigners unable to leave due to travel restrictions and cancelled flights will be able to extend their Schengen visas to a maximum of 90 days within any 180-day period, as EU law permits extensions due to force majeure.
- Germany approved the export of protective equipment such as face masks to Austria, says the Austrian Ministry of Finance.
- The Health Ministry announced that parks and playgrounds are once again open! However, everyone must keep a distance of one meter from one another!
- Tyrol placed all of its 279 municipalities under lockdown since midnight last night, effective until April 5th. Leaving your municipality is now only permitted for essential work or covering basic needs.
- Head of Austria’s public employment service (AMS) told APA that 49,000 people registered as unemployed just this Monday and Tuesday. To combat the spike in unemployment, the government unveiled a new form of “Kurzarbeit“, whereby the state will pay 80-90% of employees’ salaries as well as social security no matter how few hours they work.
March 18, 2020:
- The Austrian government unveiled today massive support measures for the economy, totaling €38 billion. This amounts to 10% of Austria’s GDP, a stimulus unprecedented in peace time. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz vowed to support the economy “whatever it may cost.” Finance minister Gernot Blümel said what counts in the end is “how many lives can be saved and how many jobs can be preserved.” The package includes:
- Tax deferrals and reductions (approximately €10 billion)
- Emergency aid for loss of sales (approx. €15 billion)
- Guarantees and liabilities (approx. €9 billion)
- An immediate relief package, announced last week (approx. €4 billion)
- Austrian grocery chains like Billa ask the population to leave the time window of 08:00-09:00 in the morning for senior shoppers, in order to reduce their infection risk.
- The City of Vienna has transformed the Wiener Messe exhibition hall into a coronavirus care facility with 880 beds in less than a day. People with mild cases of the illness can be treated there, separated from other they might infect, an approach successfully pioneered by China.
- Vienna’s Allgemeines Krankenhaus (AKH) hospital has now 90-minutes fast tests for COVID-19.
- The whole region of Tyrol has been designated as coronavirus “risk zone,” several towns in Vorarlberg and Carinthia have also been put under a 14-day quarantine.
- The Austrian government presented a €4 billion support package for Austria’s economy – we wrote an explainer of what it entails.
- The UEFA European Football Championship 2020 was officially rescheduled for 2021.
- The federal government and Austrian Airlines announced the biggest retrieval operation in history for citizens stranded abroad.
March 17, 2020:
- Non-necessary trips to the EU will be suspended in the immediate future and for the next 30 days, announced the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
- Austria’s public transport services reported a drop of 70% in the number of passengers on Monday, a sign that people are taking the measures seriously. And indeed, Vienna’s streets and squares are today empty as seldom before.
- Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen thanked everyone who staid home today and underlined that this saves lives.
March 16, 2020:
As of today, extensive restrictions are in place in Austria (see below). Please follow the government’s instructions and stay at home as much as possible.
- Austrian Airlines will suspend all regular flight operations on Wednesday, March 18 at midnight. Planes will still be available to bring citizens back from abroad. Vienna Airport expects all regular passenger air traffic to cease shortly after, except for emergency flights and freight traffic.
- All short-term parking zones (Kurzparkzonen) in Vienna will be suspended as of tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17. However, city authorities urge to not abuse this new situation and leave space for care workers, doctors and vulnerable people who might need a parking spot.
- Today at 8:00 in the morning, Germany closed its border to Austria for all but exceptional cases.
- While still rising rapidly, the growth rate of COVID-19 cases has recently slowed in Austria (from 46% per day from Wednesday to Thursday, to 32.9% from Saturday to Sunday).
- Austria’s health care system is well-prepared for a crisis in international comparison. The country’s hospitals have over 22 intensive care units (ICUs) per 100,000 people – significantly more than the rich country average. Yet COVID-19 has the potential to overwhelm the most capable systems, hence it is crucial we all now stay home and wash our hands regularly.
March 15, 2020:
- In a parliamentary session dedicated to the corona crisis, the Austrian government announced today a raft of new and extensive measures to slow the spread of the virus:
- Restaurants and bars will be closed from Tuesday, March 17, onwards.
- Gatherings are now limited to no more than 5 people (even inside homes).
- The militia of the Austrian Federal Army will be mobilized.
- Young men who did alternative social service (Zivildienst) in the last five years will be called into service; the period of those currently serving will be prolonged.
- Travelers coming from the Netherlands, UK, Russia and Ukraine are banned from entering the country.
- Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called on the population to “self-isolate,” meaning to only ”have social contacts with the people you live with.” Austria will have to reduce social and public life to the bare minimum and go into “emergency mode” from Monday onwards.
- Vice-chancellor Werner Kogler strongly criticized people who were still out and about to socialize on Friday and Saturday, which partly prompted the government to drastically toughen measures to reduce and ban gatherings; Kogler called on everyone to understand the “seriousness of the situation.”
- As of 11:00 today, the Austrian region of Tyrol is under effective lockdown. People are mandated by law to stay home except for absolute necessities (grocery shopping, medical needs, essential work). Strict travel restrictions are in place. Among Austrian regions, Tyrol has the most Covid-19 cases (currently 245) in relation to the population (751,000).
March 14, 2020:
- On public TV, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the “country is facing the biggest crisis since the second world war” and explained in detail what the government now asks people to do. Kurz said that people should only leave the house in the next two weeks for one of three reasons:
- Necessary work that can’t be postponed.
- Necessary shopping, for example for food.
- Helping other people who can’t help themselves.
- Despite border closures, there’s currently no shortage of 24-hour care workers in Austria. More than 60,000 care workers from Slovakia, Czechia, Hungary and Romania work in the country. The Austrian government works with neighboring countries to manage the situation.
- Austria’s Integrationsfonds (ÖIF) translated essential information on COVID-19 in the country into eleven languages: Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Chinese, Dari/Farsi, English, French, Paschtu, Polish, Russian, Somali, Turkish.
- The region of Heiligenblut am Großglockner in Carinthia is now under quarantine as well. Anyone who has been there – or in any of the particularly affected regions in Tyrol (see below) – after February 28 is called on to self-quarantine for 14 days.
- Procuring a sick note from a doctor is now also possible per phone, obviating the need to come to a doctor’s office. Doctors, in turn, are now allowed to send prescriptions per messaging services or e-mail.
- Austria’s labor and unemployment office, the AMS, requests all clients to use online tools, e-mail and phone to get into contact with local job centers and not visit in person. Job trainings and other classes will also not take place until further notice.
March 13, 2020:
- At 14:00 on March 13th, Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz told the press that Austria is taking the following measures that affect our daily lives over the next 14 days:
- The government requests that, if at all possible, companies should have their staff work remotely from home.
- Starting on Monday, March 16, bars, restaurants and cafes will be closed after 15:00.
- There will be more severe controls at the Swiss, Italian and Luxembourg borders.
- The majority of stores will be closed, but the following categories will stay open: Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, drug stores and post offices.
- All flights from affected countries have been halted (Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland)
- After the virus rapidly spread in the region of Tyrol, areas including Paznauntal and St. Anton am Arlberg, Ischgl and See are now under quarantine for the next 14 days. Foreign visitors to the areas can leave, but Austrians will be confined to the areas. The Arlberg Tunnel will stay open. The inhabitants will be taken care of (with food, necessities and medication) by the state for the next 14 days.
- Students at Austrian schools are advised, but not required, to stay at home starting Monday, March 16, 2020 and onwards. However, teaching is suspended until after Easter. For those whose jobs – e.g. in the healthcare sector – make caring for their children at home difficult, a care service will be offered at schools and kindergartens.
- In a joint press conference, chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) and health minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) reiterated the need to now reduce “social contacts to a minimum” in order to protect older and more vulnerable members of society.
- Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary have massively tightened border security and increased border controls; passenger trains will stop running between the countries and travelers will be refused entry to the countries unless they have a legitimate reason (work, residence).
March 12, 2020:
- All public kindergartens of the city of Vienna were closed and parents are urged to let their children stay at home. For all children whose parents are as of now still unable to take time off and care for their kids at home, kindergartens will still offer reduced services.
- The Czech Republic announced strict border controls – measuring of the body temperature of travelers – on its border to Austria, starting at 24:00 tonight on all border crossings.
- The Europe League football match between LASK Linz and Manchester United will take place without spectators.
March 11, 2020:
- All outdoor events with over 500 participants and indoor events with over 100 participants have been cancelled or postponed. This includes:
– the Vienna City Marathon 2020 (cancelled)
– the 4GameChangers Festival (postponed)
– the ViennaUp’20 Festival (postponed)
– the Steiermark Frühling at the Wiener Rathausplatz (cancelled)
– our own March Metropole salon and many more
- As of Monday, March 16, all high schools in Austria will be closed. As of Wednesday, March 18, all elementary schools and kindergartens will move to a system where children have the option to stay home if they wish or can.
- All universities are closed and will reopen earliest after Easter and classes in institutes of higher education have been cancelled or will be streamed online.
- Theaters, museums, art galleries and libraries in Austria have closed their doors until the beginning of April, at the earliest.
- Austrian Airlines cancelled 50 percent of its flights until April 24 and Vienna Airport has seen 30 percent fewer passengers thus far in March. The ÖBB cancelled passenger transport to Italy.
- Travelers returning from Italy must self-quarantine at home for 14 days, unless they can show a note from the doctor confirming that they don’t have COVID-19.
- Austria’s public broadcaster ORF has set up a special corona landing page (in German) with all the newest information, tips and resources. TV and radio also report regularly and in depth.
- Austria’s government urged employers to allow people to work from home and stressed that a certain degree of social distancing now can massively help us to slow down the disease – and flatten the curve of the outbreak – thus saving the lives of those most at risk.
- Austria’s minister of health, Rudolf Anschober, provided a map of the nearest hospitals in the country with testing capabilities. If you have symptoms, however, stay home and make sure to call 1450 first.
The City of Vienna has compiled comprehensive information on questions and answers regarding coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease 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.
The ministry has also developed a dashboard with details on the coronavirus outbreak in Austria, listing for example affected regions, age groups, gender and status of the cases.
As of today, April 6, 2020, the situation in Austria according to the Ministry of Health is as follows:
People tested: 108,416
Confirmed cases: 12,026
– of which in Vienna: 1,679
Total hospitalized: 1,056
– of which in Vienna: 192
In intensive care: 244
– of which in Vienna: 42
Cured: 2,998 (official count)
– of which in Vienna: 125
– of which in Vienna: 40
Health advice by telephone: 1450
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.
How to wash your hands, properly
The World Health Organization (WHO) as well as national and international health organizations stress how crucial proper hand-hygiene is to slow the spread of the disease.
Make sure that you and everybody around you clean their hands regularly, properly (20 seconds or more) and with soap – soap actually kills the virus.
Reduce physical contact (instead of handshake do an elbow bunch or Vulcan greeting, for instance) where possible.
We will keep updating this page as new developments unfold. Keep safe, keep informed and live long and prosper 🖖!