‘Entry tests’: Austria approves mandatory coronavirus testing for events

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L) and Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig hold coronavirus antigen tests. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Austrian MPs approved powers for the government to make a negative coronavirus test result mandatory for entry to cultural and sporting events as well as hospitals and hotel stays.

Known as ‘entry tests’, the scheme emerged as an alternative to the country’s mass testing scheme – which would have required everyone wanting to leave lockdown to test negative – after that scheme was defeated by the opposition.

Such a requirement would be ordered by health minister Rudolf Anschober after the lifting of Austria’s current coronavirus lockdown, which is due to end on January 24.

However, several suspected clusters of the new, more transmissible B117 variant of the coronavirus have been discovered in Austria and the current lockdown has not reduced infection figures as much as the government had hoped, leading to speculation the lockdown will be extended.

Anschober warned MPs on Thursday that “this mutation has an enormous potential”.

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The law also leaves open the possibility that a negative test result could be required for entry into restaurants and cafes.

The prospect of a negative test being necessary for restaurants and cafes is highly controversial and was one of the reasons the government had to scrap a similar plan earlier this month.

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Austria’s Chamber of Commerce has complained that such a rule could be impossible for businesses — particularly smaller ones — to police.

Anschober said the decision as to exactly which sectors would require a negative test would depend on the course of the pandemic.

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As well as the governing centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) and the Greens, the opposition also voted for the law on Thursday, with the only exception being the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

While Austria escaped the worst of the first wave of the pandemic last spring with a rapid lockdown.

But two further lockdowns have had to be introduced and the latest has failed to bring infections under the target of 100  per 100,000 people over a seven-day average.

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