On Sunday, March 15, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced significant domestic and international travel restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). He announced a ban on gatherings of more than five people; gatherings of more than five people will only be allowed for activities serving to fight the outbreak. Chancellor Kurz urged Austrians to self-isolate and only maintain contact with the individuals with whom they live. While the measure is due in effect from Monday, March 16, police officers deployed to playgrounds and other public areas on Sunday to begin enforcing it. Authorities have further ordered the closure of all schools and most shops other than those selling food and medicine from Monday, and all restaurants from Tuesday, March 17.
In an interview to local media on Sunday evening, Chancellor Kurz said that the government intends to suspend all flights to countries it considers a risk, but that it was currently operating the minimum services necessary to allows Austrians abroad to return. As of Monday, all travel to Switzerland, Spain, and France via air or train will be suspended, while flights from the UK and the Netherlands will no longer receive landing permits from Tuesday. Travel warnings remain in place for France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, and Iran. And individuals traveling from these countries are required to undergo 14-day home-quarantine upon entry to Austria unless they provided a certificate of health. Authorities have closed the border with Italy since Wednesday, March 11, while border checks are in place at the crossing points with Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
As of March 15, Ministry of Health officials have confirmed 860 COVID-19 cases nationwide and one associated fatality. Further international spread of the virus is to be expected over the near term. The Tyrol region - where Austria confirmed its first cases - announced a total lockdown on Sunday. The region has confirmed 245 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday morning (local time).
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic.
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
Potentially impacted travelers are advised to monitor the situation, confirm travel itineraries, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments.
To reduce the general risk of transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the disease.