Consultative Committee decides on end of 'Easter pause'

Today, the federal government and the federated entities convened the Consultative Committee to discuss the current coronavirus situation.

The Consultative Committee has established that the pressure on healthcare remains relatively high, especially in the intensive care units. Over a third of all hospitalised coronavirus patients are in intensive care which is considerably more than a year ago or last autumn. With the emergence of new virus variants, the pandemic has become more contagious and aggressive. The Committee also notes, however, that a number of core metrics are evolving favourably:

  • a decrease in the average number of daily COVID-19 infections;
  • an incipient decrease in the average number of hospital admissions;
  • the reproduction number is below 1.

Furthermore, the Committee has observed an acceleration of the vaccination campaign. By 19 April, 60% of the 65+ age group is expected to have received their first vaccination, by 26 April more than 70% and by the end of April more than 80%. In addition, we expect that by the end of May more than 80% of the 18-65 age group with underlying conditions will have received their first vaccination. Scientific research shows that a high level of immunity is already achieved two to three weeks after a first vaccination.

On the basis of this overall picture, the Consultative Committee has made the following decisions:

Reopening of schools

On 19 April, after the Easter holidays, classes will resume as they were before the Easter pause. This means:

  • Nursery education, primary education, special needs secondary education, the first stage of secondary education and the system of ‘learning and working’: full-time face-to-face education;
  • 2nd and 3rd stage of secondary education: 50% face-to-face education;
  • Higher Education: physical presence on campus 1 day/week.

Exams can take place in person.

If the infection rates evolve favourably and after an assessment by the Ministers of Education which will be submitted to the Consultative Committee, full-time secondary education can resume from 3 May.

Non-essential travel: stringent testing and quarantine regime

The travel ban on non-essential travel within the European Union expires on 19 April. For travel outside the European Union, the European rules continue to apply. However, the existing advice will remain in place advising against all non-essential travel.

Upon return, a stringent testing and quarantine regime is in place. Police will check who has not been tested upon their return on the basis of the Passenger Locator Form. Those who do not abide by the test rules risk a coronavirus fine of EUR 250.

End of Easter pause for shops and non-medical close-contact professions

The Easter pause ends on 26 April. This means that from then on people will be allowed to meet outside in groups of no more than 10 people.

From this date onwards, shops will also be allowed to receive customers without an appointment. People are no longer required to shop alone but may be accompanied by one other member of the household.

Non-medical close-contact professions, including hairdressers and beauticians, are allowed to reopen subject to tightened protocols.

At the same time, some 30 pilot projects are being launched to establish, under practical and scientific guidance, how the various economic sectors can safely resume their activities or how closing them can be avoided in the future.

Seven out of ten over-65s vaccinated and protected: outdoor package

On 8 May, when almost all people over the age of 65 are vaccinated and protected, a broad outdoor package will come into effect.

Activities in an organised context (e.g. sports club or association) can take place outdoors with up to 25 people of all ages, but without an audience and without overnight stays. Children up to the age of 12 can be inside with a maximum of 10 people.

The following will also be possible outdoors:

  • Restaurants and pubs: outside terrace;
  • Events (including receptions and banquets), cultural performances and worship services for up to 50 people;
  • Amusement parks;
  • Professional flea markets and bric-a-brac markets.

The curfew will be abolished and replaced by a ban on gatherings, whereby, between midnight and 5am, gatherings may only take place in public areas with a maximum of three people or with members of your own household (people living under the same roof).

Two close contacts at home

From 8 May onwards, a household may receive two people at the same time, provided that these people belong to the same household. Children up to the age of 12 are not included.

Almost all over-65s and vulnerable people vaccinated and protected: wider perspective

A new and important milestone will be the moment when almost all people over 65 and vulnerable people with underlying diseases are vaccinated and protected. We are expecting a high level of immunity in that group in the first half of June.

If the figures are favourable, especially the number of intensive care admissions, the outdoor plan will be further extended and there will also be room for more activities inside, provided that there is a sustainable reduction in the pressure on intensive care so that quality care for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients is guaranteed.

Importance of vaccination

The Consultative Committee has noted that in some parts of the country people are not attending their vaccine appointments. Vaccination is the only structural way out of the pandemic. The vaccines are effective and safe. Possible side effects are very rare and mild, especially compared to the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection which are much more frequent and deadly. So protect the lives of you and your loved ones by getting vaccinated.