Austria has once again tightened its Covid restrictions, this time upping the requirement for specific FFP2 masks in public places.
The rules are already complex for visiting Britons – on Christmas Day, the country added the UK to its “virus variant list” (virusvariantgebiete) of high risk destinations, meaning only visitors who have had their booster jab within the past 270 days may avoid quarantine on arrival.
Travellers who have been double vaccinated but not received a booster can visit with a negative result from a PCR test taken within the 72 hours before arrival, but must quarantine for 10 days in their accommodation.
The changes were announced after an emergency Covid meeting of Austrian ministers on 22 December.
This followed a nationwide lockdown sparked by a spike in new Covid cases, which ended on 20 December.
The national lockdown began on Monday 22 November for all, and ended on 12 December for vaccinated people only. From 20 December, everyone was released from lockdown rules, though so-called “2G” rules for entering local venues remain.
From January, health ministers have also tightened the rules for mask-wearing across the country.
So what do the new rules mean for Austrian holidays? Here’s what we know so far.
Can Britons travel to Austria?
Yes, but only some will avoid lengthy quarantine.
Since 25 December the UK has been on Austria’s “virus variant list”, which contains high-risk destinations for importation of the Omicron variant.
This means that only travellers with a proof of two vaccine doses and a booster jab, along with a negative PCR test result, will be able to avoid quarantine in the country – everyone else must quarantine for 10 days.
Meanwhile unvaccinated or partly vaccinated people may not visit the country at all, unless they meet one of a few strict criteria for exemption.
As of 7 January only around 34,834,288 people in the UK have received a booster jab – around 52 per cent of the population, most of them in older age groups.
“The UK will be classified as a virus variant region from December 25 in Austria. Everyone travelling from the UK needs to quarantine for 10 days,” tweeted the Austrian National Tourist Office on 22 December.
“Except: People who are fully vaccinated AND have received the booster can enter Austria with a negative PCR test.”
The test (PCR, LAMP or TMA) must be taken within the 48 hours before your time of arrival.
The new rule meant many cancelled winter holidays for families whose younger members have not yet received a booster – some may not even have received two jabs.
As of 25 December, the other countries on the virus variant list are: Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Angola, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Entry from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini is currently banned outright, including anyone who has been in those countries in the previous 10 days.
What are the rules if you haven’t had a booster?
Visitors from the UK who are double vaccinated can enter Austria with a negative PCR test result from within the previous 48 hours – but must self-isolate for 10 days after arrival, wiping out most typical holiday periods.
If you are double-jabbed, you must also make sure your vaccination is still in date – Austria is one of a handful of countries that has introduced an expiration date for vaccine passports.
This means that, to be considered fully vaccinated, your final dose of the vaccine must have been administered between 14 days and 270 days before you arrival date.
If your second vaccine was more than 270 days ago, you need a booster jab in order to be considered fully vaccinated.
Can unvaccinated UK travellers visit Austria?
Before the booster jab rule was announced on 22 December, only fully vaccinated people – or those who can prove they have recovered from Covid-19 within the past 180 days – could enter Austria.
They also had to provide a negative PCR result from a test taken within the past 48hours – rules which Austria may revert to if the UK is taken off the virus variant list
The Foreign Office advice states: “There are exceptions to this, including residence or habitual abode in Austria or another EU member state, pregnancy, health issues that mean a vaccination is not possible or for some work reasons. See the official Austrian advice for what is required in these cases.”
What are the rules for children?
Children under 12 do not need to provide a test result or proof of vaccination in order to enter Austria if they are accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult.
The rules for under-12s then mirror their parent’s or chaperone’s: if the adult travelling with them has had a booster jab, they do not have to quarantine; if they have not, both have to quarantine for 10 days.
For those 12 and over: teenagers born before 1 September 2006 need to provide proof of full (double-shot) vaccination, OR proof of recovery within the past 180 days, OR proof of a booster jab in order to enter, as well as showing a negative PCR test result.
Teenagers born after 1 September 2006 do not have to produce the above, but must have registered for a Holiday Ninja Pass, taking the first test of the two required before travel to Austria.
Are there restrictions in place once there?
Austria has so-called “2G” rules in place, meaning fully vaccinated people are able to access more venues, services and public places than unvaccinated people.
You must show proof of full vaccination to enter hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, nightclubs, leisure centres, gyms, cultural institutions such as theatres, Christmas markets, ski lifts/cable cars and hair salons.
Austrian venues will accept the NHS’s Covid Pass as proof of double vaccination.
For children and teenagers who have yet to have both jabs, they can apply for an Austrian Ninja Pass and undergo regular testing instead of having to show proof of vaccination.
Restaurants and cafés are currently closing at 11 pm (though New Year’s Eve is an exception). Bars and clubs remain closed for the time being, as will the après-ski scene.
FFP2 face masks – the European equivalent to N95 respirator masks – must also be worn on public transport and in taxis, plus in shops, banks, bakeries, cable cars, museums, libraries, post offices, pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
As of 6 January, these must also be worn outdoors “where a distance of two metres cannot be maintained”, with authorities giving the examples of outdoors queues or pedestrian crossings.
Can I cancel my holiday to Austria?
If you’re due to holiday in Austria, your cancellation rights will depend on what you’ve booked. If you’ve purchased a package holiday, you’re protected by the 2018 Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations; it’s likely your provider will allow you to shift dates or claim a full refund.
If you’ve booked separate elements, things get more complex. Whether you can get a refund from the airline will depend on whether the flight you’re due to take is cancelled. If it still runs, the carrier is not obliged to refund you. However, many airlines have introduced more flexible rebooking policies during the pandemic, so you will be likely be offered a voucher or the option to change your dates instead. Likewise, if you contact your accommodation provider, they may be willing to shift your booking.
Also check what’s covered by your travel insurance – depending on your policy terms, you may be able to claim money back through this.
What are the rules for returning to the UK?
As of late November, all arrivals to the UK must provide a negative result from a pre-departure test (PCR or antigen) taken on the day of departure or within the two days beforehand. This is regardless of vaccination status.
They must also book a “day two” test on arrival in the UK or within the two days after, which must be a PCR test, and fill in the UK’s passenger locator form within the 48 hours before arrival.
Vaccinated arrivals must now self-isolate between getting home or to their accommodation and receiving a negative result from their day two test.
Unvaccinated or partly vaccinated arrivals must also self-isolate for 10 days, and book a further “day eight” PCR test. They also have the option of paying extra for a “day five” or test-to-release test which could release them from quarantine slightly earlier.