Amid rising cases, Austria hastily reintroduces an indoor mask mandate.
Austria will reintroduce an indoor mask mandate, the health minister, Johannes Rauch, announced on Friday, bucking a trend among European countries to lift coronavirus precautions despite rising cases.
“It was simply necessary to take countermeasures now,” Mr. Rauch said at a news conference on Friday, just weeks after Austria lifted its mask mandates in most indoor spaces.
Earlier this month, Austrian officials had announced that the nation’s general vaccine mandate would be temporarily suspended. It recently took official effect, but enforcement had not begun. About 74 percent of Austrians are fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data.
But Mr. Rauch said that experts have now corrected forecasts for the trajectory of the virus and that officials were concerned about staffing and the availability of beds in hospitals and retirement and nursing homes.
Starting on Wednesday, FFP2 masks (Europe’s equivalent to American N95s) will be required in indoor spaces again, and the government would soon revise the isolation rules for infected people, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection said in a statement on Friday.
A highly transmissible Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is contributing to the new surge around Europe this month. Although deaths have continued to fall in the region, the number of Covid patients in hospitals has risen in some European countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Austria, according to Our World in Data.
Over the past two weeks, new cases in Austria have increased by 54 percent, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
But European countries have nonetheless been pushing to reopen. Last month, Denmark dropped all its restrictions, including a mask mandate in indoor spaces and on public transportation. The British government has ended all remaining legal coronavirus curbs in England, including the legal requirement for infected people to isolate. On Thursday, Italy announced it would progressively lift its vaccination and health pass requirements.
But as countries greeted the end of many precautions, Austria’s announcement was a concerning signal that momentum in that direction may have been premature. Mr. Rauch said that earlier policy changes were based on predictions that cases would be dropping by now.
“That has not come true. It has changed, and changed significantly,” he said.
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.