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Austria: Government Tightens Rules to Contain Spread of Coronavirus

(Mar. 17, 2020) On March 13, 14, 15, and 16, 2020, respectively, the Austrian government adopted the COVID-19 Act and several regulations that tighten restrictions already put in place to prevent or contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in Austria and to make money available to deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic. The measures include the following:

  • The establishment of a crisis management fund
  • Measures to support employers and employees affected by COVID-19
  • Closures of or restrictions on entering certain business premises
  • The reintroduction of border controls and travel restrictions from certain countries to Austria
  • Prohibition on gathering in public places

The regulations are based on authorizations contained in the Epidemics Act 1950.

As of March 16, 2020, 8,490 people have been tested in Austria, with 959 positive cases. One individual has died and six people have recovered.

COVID-19 Act

The COVID-19 Act establishes a crisis management fund at the Ministry of Finance to make the necessary financial resources available to the federal ministries to enable them to take the necessary measures to efficiently manage the COVID-19 crisis situation. (COVID-19 Act art. 1, § 1.) The fund is equipped with 4 billion euros (€) (about US$4.47 billion). (§ 2.) The money may be issued for measures to stabilize the health care system; stimulate the labor market, in particular short-time work; maintain public order and safety; absorb losses of revenue caused by the crisis; and stimulate the economy. It may also be used in connection with educational institutions and with the Epidemics Act 1950. (§ 3.)

Furthermore, the COVID-19 Act authorizes the federal bad bank (Abbaubeteiligungsaktiengesellschaft des Bundes (ABBAG)) established in 2014 to provide services and take financial measures that are necessary to help Austrian companies maintain their solvency and bridge liquidity problems that occur due to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the resulting economic effects. (COVID-19 Act art. 4, no. 1.) If so directed by the federal minister of finance, the federal bad bank must form one or more subsidiaries whose sole purpose is to fulfill the aforementioned tasks. (Art. 4, no. 2.)

In addition, employers who implement short-time work in connection with COVID-19 may receive higher allowances than usual. (Art. 6; Arbeitsmarktservicegesetz § 37b, para. 7.) If child care institutions are ordered closed by administrative action, employees who have no legal right to take administrative leave to take care of their children may be granted special leave of up to three weeks by the employer to take care of children up to 14 years of age. The federal government must compensate the employer with one-third of the salary of the respective employee during that time. (Art. 7.)

Lastly, the COVID-19 Act authorizes the Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care, and Consumer Protection to issue regulations that prohibit entering business premises to buy goods or services in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The prohibition can be limited to specific times. People who enter premises that have been ordered closed may be fined up to €3,600 (about US$4,008). Likewise, the owner of the premises in question may be fined up to €30,000 (about US$ 33,418). (Art. 8.)

The minister therefore ordered the closure of all businesses that sell goods or provide services, and all leisure and sports facilities, with the exception of the following:

  • Public pharmacies
  • Grocery stores
  • Drug stores
  • Stores that sell medicinal, sanitary, and therapeutic products
  • Health and care services
  • Services for people with disabilities
  • Veterinary services
  • Establishments that sell pet food
  • Establishments that sell and maintain safety and emergency products
  • Emergency services
  • Agricultural trade establishments
  • Gas stations
  • Banks
  • Post office
  • Legal services
  • Delivery services
  • Public transportation
  • Specialty tobacco stores and newspaper kiosks
  • Hygienic and cleaning services
  • Garbage pickup services
  • Car repair shops

In addition, all sit-down service in restaurants is prohibited. Delivery service is exempt. Restaurants may be open only between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Changes to Court Procedures and the Code of Criminal Procedure

Contact between parties in court must be limited to what is necessary to safeguard procedural and party rights. Questioning of suspects in pretrial detention or during the main criminal trial must take place remotely by using videoconferencing.

Additional Travel Restrictions

Furthermore, Austria has reintroduced border controls at its border with Switzerland and Liechtenstein, in addition to the border controls in place for travel from Italy. Schengen area member states are allowed to temporarily reintroduce border controls at their internal borders if a serious threat to public policy or internal security has been established. (Schengen Border Code § 25.)

In order to enter Austria from Italy, Switzerland, or Liechtenstein, travelers must present a medical certificate in either German, English, or Italian that shows they have tested negative for the virus SARS-CoV-2. The certificate cannot be older than four days. Anyone who cannot present such a medical certificate is to be refused entry. Austrian citizens and people permanently residing in Austria are exempt from these requirements if they agree in writing to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Furthermore, in addition to Italy, China, South Korea, and Iran, travel by air from the following countries to Austria is prohibited:

  • Switzerland
  • France
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • Netherlands
  • Russian Federation
  • Ukraine

Likewise, all travel by train from Switzerland and Liechtenstein to Austria, as well as from Italy, is prohibited. Freight transport is exempt.

Prohibition on Entering Public Places

Under the new restrictions, people are prohibited from entering public places, except to

  • avert immediate danger to life, limb, or property;
  • care for or support vulnerable people;
  • meet necessary basic needs of daily life, and the possibility of maintaining a safe distance of one meter from other people is ensured;
  • fulfill work responsibilities, and the possibility of maintaining a safe distance of one meter from other people is ensured; and
  • go to an outside public place alone or with persons that live in a common household or with pets, and a safe distance of one meter from other people is maintained.

These rules also apply to using public transportation, on which a safe distance of one meter from others must be observed.