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EU ramps up action against Austria over child benefits

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The European (EU) Commission intensified action against Austria on Thursday over controversial rules tying family benefits for children living in other EU states to living costs in that country.

Under the rule, which took effect on Jan. 1, family benefits were calculated according to an index of national purchasing power levels, meaning workers whose families live in neighbouring EU countries such as Hungary and Slovakia are to receive less than before.

“Equal treatment is a fundamental principle of the EU, said EU Social Affairs Commissioner, Marianne Thyssen.

“EU citizens who work in another member state than their own and pay taxes and social security contributions have a right to the same family benefits.”

The commission had first called Vienna out on the law in March, sending a letter of formal notice.

“Having thoroughly analysed the arguments put forward by Austria, the commission has concluded that the concerns have not been addressed, the EU’s executive wrote in a statement on Thursday.

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Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic reopen borders to each other

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Travel restrictions between Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia was completely lifted, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said on his Facebook page on Friday.

The four countries’ foreign ministers had numerous telephone consultations in recent days on mutually lifting restrictions on borders, the minister said.

“In the end, we managed to agree on all the technical issues, so from today 8 a.m., Hungarian, Czech, Austrian and Slovak citizens will be able to travel to each other’s countries without any restrictions,” Szijjarto added.

Citizens are now allowed to cross the borders between Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia without presenting a negative coronavirus test and without having to undergo an obligatory quarantine, according to the chief of Hungarian diplomacy.

On May 26, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have reopened their respective borders to each other’s citizens for stays of no more than 48 hours without quarantine.

(XINHUA)

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Austria to loosen face-mask requirement, scrap table-size limit in bars

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Austria will no longer require shoppers to wear face masks and scrap a limit of four adults at a table in bars and restaurants, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Friday, outlining the next loosening of the country’s coronavirus restrictions.

Austria introduced a lockdown early in its outbreak and had far fewer deaths per capita than many of its neighbours. It was one of the first countries in Europe able to loosen restrictions, beginning on April 14.

Shops, restaurants, bars, schools and hotels have all since reopened.

Authorities have required people to wear masks or alternative cloth face coverings in shops and on public transport, a move aimed at preventing the wearer from infecting others.

“Face masks will no longer be compulsory in shops or in school,” Kurz told a news conference, saying the changes would take effect on June 15.

Masks will continue to be compulsory on public transport, in health facilities including pharmacies, and at service providers where social distancing cannot be ensured, such as at hairdressers, he added.

A limit allowing bars and restaurants to seat no more than four adults at a table will be lifted, and a mandatory closing time of 11:00 p.m. will be extended for two more hours.

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Edited By: Isaac Aregbesola (NAN)

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Robot delivers meals to customer at Asian restaurant in Vienna, Austria

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Robots deliver meals at an Asian restaurant in Vienna, Austria, on May 28, 2020. An Asian restaurant in Vienna uses robots to deliver meals in order to reduce unnecessary contact between waiters and customers during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Xinhua/Guo Chen)

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Austria to pay artists 1,000 euros a month to weather Covid-19 crisis

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Self-employed artists in Austria are eligible for monthly pay-outs of 1,000 euros ($1,100) to protect their livelihoods in the current COVID-19 crisis, the government announced on Thursday, responding to pressure from the cultural sector.

The government set up a 90-million-euro fund to help around 15,000 artists during the second half of this year.

“We are acknowledging that the disruption of cultural life will last more than just one or two months,’’ Culture Minister and Vice-Chancellor, Werner Kogler, told a press conference in Vienna.

The announcement came one day after Finance Minister, Gernot Bluemel, said that he had earmarked 25 million euros to cover losses for film productions that were stopped because of the pandemic.

The government is also planning to aid larger cultural institutions.

The coalition between conservatives and Greens has drawn up schemes in recent days to ramp up cultural life after the lockdown period after numerous artists protested that they were being forgotten while other sectors of the economy reopened.

The Green Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, Ulrike Lunacek, stepped down amid the criticism and was replaced last week by Andrea Mayer, a former senior official in the Culture Ministry

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Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)

 
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Austrian Airlines set to resume flights from June 15

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Austrian Airlines (AUA) announced on Thursday that it will start to resume its regular flights from June 15 after a break of almost 90 days due to the coronavirus crisis.

In the first week of resuming its services, AUA will offer flights to more than 20 destinations including Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, London and the central Israeli city of Tel Aviv, the Lufthansa subsidiary said in a press release.

In the following week, namely from June 22 to June 28, the airlines will operate flights to additional destinations including Belgrade, Milan, Nice, Prague and Warsaw.

Accordingly, AUA will fly to 37 destinations in the first two weeks of resuming services, subject to new official restrictions, and offer an average of 5 percent capacity compared to the previous year, it said.

“We are all delighted that Austrian Airlines is finally taking off again,” said Chief Commercial Officer Andreas Otto, adding “As soon as we have built up enough feeder traffic on the short and medium-haul routes, we will again offer long-haul flights. That could be the case in July.”

Passengers will be required to wear masks inside airports and aboard aircraft, said AUA in the statement. At Vienna Airport the so-called “Sneeze Guards” (plexiglass panels) will be attached to the check-in, boarding and information desks. There will also be floor markings to help customers keep the safety distance.

It emphasized that special filters will ensure the air on board is constantly cleaned during the flight. The standard of these devices corresponds to those in clinical operating rooms, which means that the air on board will be cleaner than that which a person breathes on earth.

(XINHUA)

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Czech Republic lifts more restrictions, opens borders with Austria, Germany

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The Czech Republic on Monday lifted more restrictions, including those on hotels, swimming pools, castles and chateaus, and the indoor sections of restaurants, in a bid to further reopen the economy.

Elementary school children are also allowed to return to school in small groups. Minister of Education Robert Plaga proposed that secondary school, vocational, and conservatory school students be able to return to classes on a voluntary basis beginning June 8.

A mandatory requirement for covering the nose and mouth in public has also been lifted. Wearing face mask is only required in enclosed spaces.

The Karvina region of the country will still undergo restrictive measures for at least another 14 days following a large outbreak of COVID-19 amongst workers in the Darkov Mine, according to Health Minister Adam Vojtech. A blanket test revealed that 212 miners and their close contacts tested positive for the disease.

The country will also begin reopening its borders to neighboring Germany and Austria on Tuesday in a further bid to normalize life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From Tuesday, we are opening all railway and road crossings with Germany and Austria, as well as the Hrensko river crossing, and we are abolishing comprehensive border controls. We negotiated with our German and Austrian colleagues so that the conditions would be similar for them as well,” said Interior Minister Jan Hamacek in a press release, adding that a proof for a negative COVID-19 test will still be mandatory and border checks will be random.

The country is also opening up international flights again at major airports on Tuesday.

Crossing borders in non-designated areas will still be prohibited until June 13, and the external borders of the Schengen area will be closed until at least June 15.

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Czech Republic mulls “mini-Schengen” with Austria, Slovakia set for mid-June

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The Czech Republic will open its borders to Austria and Slovakia by mid-June, according to the Czech Foreign Ministry.

“We are returning to normal and this also applies to tourism. Our goal is to open the borders between the Czech Republic, Austria, and Slovakia by mid-June, moreover, without the need to submit negative tests or quarantine,” Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said in a press release on Tuesday.

The foreign minister described the model as a “mini-Schengen” zone without the need for inspections, tests, or quarantines.

On the same day, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he would like to see the country’s borders all open on June 15.

The prime minister made the remark after a conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following a virtual meeting of the Visegrad Group (V4) prime ministers.

According to Babis, Poland has not set its sights on the same goal as the rest of the neighboring states. However, Petricek said he believes it could happen at the end of June at the latest.

The ministry said that negotiations with Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Croatia concerning travel from the Czech Republic will take place by the end of the week.

(XINHUA)

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People dine in Cafe Landtmann in Vienna, Austria

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A waiter wearing a face mask greets customers in the Cafe Landtmann in Vienna, Austria, May 15, 2020. As part of the federal government’s phased plan, bars and restaurants in Austria are allowed to open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. from May 15, with restrictions such as wearing face masks by employees and a maximum of four adult guests per table. (Photo by Georges Schneider/Xinhua)

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Austrian gov’t outlines step-by-step plan to resume cultural activities

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The Austrian government on Friday outlined a step-by-step plan for the resumption of cultural activities in the Alpine country.

From May 29 indoor and outdoor events with up to 100 spectators will be allowed, said Health Minister Rudolf Anschober at a press conference here on Friday.

From July 1 events with up to 250 spectators will be possible and cinemas are also due to open, he said.

The one-meter social distancing rule will have to be observed at all events, and there should be one representative responsible for coronavirus issues at each event, he added.

“A very big step” should take place on Aug. 1, when events with up to 500 visitors will be permitted, while events with up to 1,000 visitors will be allowed if a special security concept is available, said the minister.

Anschober was pleased with the latest coronavirus figures, saying that there are just over 1,000 active cases and only 212 patients in hospital at present.

“Austria is on a positive path,” he said.

The step-by-step plan, completed after a week of dialogue with cultural workers and politicians, is to be put into a regulation on May 25 and is to be carried out on May 29, the minister added.

(XINHUA)

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