New COVID-19 Measures – What Will Change

The federal government has once again tightened rules for restaurants and events. Here’s what it means for Vienna.

Austria’s sports stadiums will be even emptier in the coming weeks: To combat skyrocketing infection rates, the federal government has drastically cut back the number of visitors allowed at public events. From Friday, October 23, onwards, a maximum of 1,500 (previously 3,000) spectators will be allowed at outdoor sports events with fixed seating. No more than 1,000 visitors (instead of 1,500) will be allowed indoors.

This has immediate repercussions for the upcoming Erste Bank Open tennis tournament at Vienna’s Stadthalle this weekend. On-site offerings will now be spartan: Food and drinks may no longer be served, and masks will be mandatory for the entire duration of the event – even when seated. 

The football club FAK Austria Wien is also affected by the new restrictions. Their Bundesliga home game against champion FC Red Salzburg will only accommodate 1,500 spectators instead of the planned 3,000. Masks will be compulsory during the entire game and catering is strictly verboten

“Business As Usual” for Amateur Sports

Amateur sports are unaffected by the new measures thus far. The participants needed to play – in soccer 11 plus 11, along with benched players and necessary personnel (coaches, referees etc.) – are still permitted.

Professional sporting events that do not qualify as major (like a Bundesliga match) need to present an adequate hygiene concept. In enclosed spaces, up to 100 people are allowed, open air facilities may fit up to 200 athletes plus trainers, coaches and other personnel required for the staging of the event. “Actively doing sports should still be possible,” emphasized the minister responsible, Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens). 

No Impact on Vienna’s Christmas Markets

Based on current measures, Vienna’ Christmas markets will still take place. Crucial for the go-ahead are comprehensive hygiene concepts, which the city has recently approved.

Meanwhile spokespeople from the restaurant and bar industry see “clubhouses and event halls” as the greatest risk for spreading the coronavirus. While only 4% of new infections can be traced to restaurants, bars or hotels, more than 60% stem from private gatherings. “Restaurants are not the superspreaders,” said Mario Pulker, the WKO (Austrian Economic Chamber) representative for the industry. In contrast, “consumption within para-gastronomy continues to be unrestrained” without curfews or adequate control, he said.

Another change coming soon to restaurants and bars is the phasing out of clear-plastic “face visors.”  While popular with many waiters, new studies have shown that they provide inadequate protection against the virus.

Cultural Institutions Under Pressure

The Staatsoper and the Konzerthaus, two of Vienna’s largest cultural performance spaces, will be directly affected by stricter restrictions, and will see their capacity reduced from the previous 1,500, to a maximum of 1,000. 

Since reopening on September 7, the Staatoper has welcomed around 40,000 spectators over 38 evenings. Two-thirds of the time, attendance numbers exceeded the new limit of 1,000 people. The world-famous Vienna State Opera now expects to lose about €10,000 per evening going forward under new regulations. Those who have already bought tickets for future performances will not be affected by the change. 

Other institutions like the Burgtheater or Volksoper are unaffected by the new rules: According to the Bundestheater Holding, the Burgtheater filled an average of 500 seats per evening this fall, while the Volksoper attendance record since reopening in September is 850 guests for a single evening. Keeping your mouth and nose covered during the entire performance has already been recommended, and food and beverages have thus far been only possible when ordered in advance. From Saturday onwards, refreshments will be banned outright. 

The Konzerthaus says it is “already prepared” for new restrictions: Until now, about 1,150 guests could be accommodated with dynamic seating, but as concerts can be held several times, they have already adjusted their schedule “flexibly.” Tickets that exceed the new capacity of 1,000 will be rebooked for other dates. As to the new requirement to wear masks during performances, this was already a “house rule,” they say, before the new regulations were announced.

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

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