Vienna. When the government proposed a loosening of the lockdown at the end of last year and demanded that the restaurants check corona tests of their visitors, there was great outrage. “We will not control. That is not possible for us, ”said Mario Pulker, the head of the gastronomy division in the Chamber of Commerce. In the meantime, many hosts would probably even carry out corona tests themselves, if only they could have guests again.
They may be able to do that earlier than previously planned. After a gastronomy summit on Friday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) did not rule out the opening of restaurants and coffee houses in March. So far, the government had planned easing steps for the catering and hotel industry for “around Easter” at the earliest.
An early opening is dependent on the infection process, added Kurz. If the infections “increase sharply, openings make no sense”. On March 1, they will again consult with the federal states and with experts and then take appropriate steps.
“Safer than meeting at home”
An earlier opening had moved into the realm of possibility, because the hosts are no longer against entry tests. “The tide has turned,” said the Chancellor, all industry representatives are now in favor of the system of entry tests, which allows more freedom in the pandemic. The concept of the tests worked well for hairdressers and other body-hugging service providers.
In any case, Vienna's gastronomy chairman, Peter Dobcak, was certain in the run-up to the meeting. “We have mastered the registration requirement and will also manage the test controls.”
The meeting in the Chancellery included the head of the Chamber of Commerce Harald Mahrer, the head of the hotelier association, Michaela Reitterer, the restaurateur Mario Plachutta, the Steirereck boss Heinz Reitbauer, the hotel spokeswoman in the Chamber of Commerce, Susanne Kraus-Winkler, and tourism minister Elisabeth Köstinger via video (ÖVP).
After the talks, Mahrer said he was hopeful that opening steps would take place before Easter. Meetings in the restaurant after a corona test are safer than the current illegal meetings at home. “All industries are committed to entry tests, they are the key to further opening steps in March.”
The hotels also hope to be able to open at the same time as the inns. Hotel spokeswoman Kraus-Winkler said she was not giving up on Easter yet. They want a leap of faith from the government to prove that the hygiene concepts work. In the radio Ö1 “Mittagsjournal” she admitted that there had not yet been any concrete concessions. One would have liked to have heard that “we can reopen at the sound of something”.
In Vienna, the city administration and the Chamber of Commerce want to return to a kind of normality with a comprehensive PCR gargle test by mid-March. The capacity would be enough for 1.5 million tests per week. After a negative PCR test, one is not infectious for 72 hours and could, for example, visit events or bars, the chamber explained.
Lawsuits against lockdown
In a joint statement on Friday, the presidents of the Federation of Industrialists (IV) from Tyrol, Salzburg and Vorarlberg called for all areas of life to be opened from March. If the efforts in testing and vaccination were intensified, the conditions for further opening steps would be created, it said in a broadcast.
The future of the domestic hotel and catering industry, which are particularly hard hit by the lockdown due to the corona pandemic, is more than uncertain. Experts believe that 20 to 30 percent of restaurants and hotels in Austria could slide into bankruptcy despite government aid.
In Germany, current figures show that the industry lost almost 40 percent of its sales in 2020. In December alone, sales were 72 percent below the level of February 2020, the month before the corona pandemic broke out in Germany. According to a survey by the Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga), three out of four restaurateurs and hoteliers fear for their existence because of the lockdown (75.5 percent of 12,000 companies surveyed). The association criticizes the fact that the promised state aid reaches the companies too late or not in full.
In Germany, where trade is still closed, more and more companies are defending themselves with lawsuits against the lockdown. For example, more than 150 fashion companies have called the courts. They want equality with the hairdressers who are allowed to open.