‘It is serious once more’: Austria announces strict coronavirus restrictions

Germany, which is also seeing a spike in cases, declares Vienna a Covid-19 risk zone

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced tighter nationwide restrictions after an infection spike saw Germany declare Vienna – along with Amsterdam and Budapest – a Covid-19 risk zone.

After Austria reported 780 new coronavirus cases within 24 hours on Thursday, nearly half in the capital, Mr Kurz warned that a second lockdown could not be ruled out if new rules were not adhered to.

From Monday, private gatherings across Austria – including parties and weddings – will be limited to 10 people, with exceptions only for funerals. Professional events with up to 1,500 people are still permitted but many larger events, including the Vienna ball season, have been cancelled.

“These are restrictions that hurt but are necessary to, hopefully, avoid a second lockdown [with] catastrophic consequences,” Mr Kurz said at a press conference.


Earlier he warned on Twitter that “autumn and winter will be very challenging. Many don’t believe it yet but it is serious once more”.

Other new measures require table service only in bars and restaurants. From Monday masks will be required while moving around bars and restaurants and while shopping at outdoor markets. Masks remain obligatory in shops and on public transport. A temporary sales tax cut, introduced to stimulate consumption, will be extended into 2021.

In light of the growing infection rates, Germany and Belgium issued travel warnings for Vienna on Wednesday, following a similar decision by Switzerland last week.

Germany has issued travel warnings for more than 160 countries where the infection rate is higher than 50 per 100,000 population in the previous seven days. Vienna, with a population of 1.9 million, has reached an infection level of 197 new cases per 100,000 population.

Anyone returning to Germany from a risk area is required to take a Covid-19 test and self-isolate for 10 days.

Tourism blow

The move is a blow to Vienna’s tourism sector, which employs 116,000 people directly or indirectly. After a disastrous spring and a slow recovery in the summer, one third of all visitors came from neighbouring Germany. Business in September and October was back to 60 per cent of normal levels but, on Thursday, hoteliers reported a massive wave of cancellations.

“This is a major catastrophe,” said Vienna tourism director Norbert Kettner to Austrian media.

Germany is facing its own spike in Covid-19 cases, with nearly 2,200 new cases reported in 24 hours to Thursday. With a current daily reproduction rate of 1, leading virologist Prof Christian Drosten said the country was at a tipping point.

Plans to allow fans return to Bundesliga soccer matches suffered a setback on Thursday when Munich mayor Dieter Reiter imposed a supporter ban on Friday’s highly anticipated match between Bayern Munich and Schalke.

New data shows the number of new cases per 100,000 of population in Munich jumped on Thursday from 34 to 47.6. “For me this level means that we have to think about considerably more deep limits in public life,” said Mr Reiter. “I cannot, at the same time, allow thousands of fans into the stadiums.”

Earlier this week Germany’s federal government agreed to allow stadiums to reopen to 20 per cent capacity.

Bayern chief coach Hansi Flick said he accepted the decision to exclude 7,500 fans. “This issue will follow us for a longer period,” he said. “We simply have to adhere to the rules.”

In Copenhagen the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said the number of coronavirus cases seen in September “should serve as a wake-up call”.

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” he said.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin