Coronavirus – general legal information
The duty to report suspected coronavirus infections and the statutory basis for related compulsory measures is predominantly set forth in the Austrian Pandemic Act 1950 (Epidemiegesetz 1950) and its related ordinances and decrees, as issued by the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection.
What is a case of illness, what is a case of suspicion?
Cases of illness are cases of a positive tests for the coronavirus. Cases of suspicion are cases where an individual suffers from clear symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) and had contact with an infected person within the past 14 days or has been travelling in areas of risk.
Duty to report
The duty to report cases of illness or suspicion applies to a range of individuals and institutions, such as the attending healthcare professionals, hospitals, but also schools, restaurants or apartment and house owners. There is no explicit reporting duty for employers, but such an obligation might arise from the employer's fiduciary duty.
Persons of contact
Reportable cases of illness or suspicion are to be distinguished from persons of contact. The Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection classifies persons of contact (cases of suspected contagion) in three categories. Depending on the category, cases of suspected contagion might have to be registered and the municipal authority might impose selected compulsory measures.
Category I: Direct contact (e.g. contact with body liquids, also skin contact, such as handshakes, or talking with an infected person within a speaking distance of 2m or less; flight passengers seated in the same row or two rows in front or behind of an infected person). Category I cases of suspected contagion are to be registered with the municipal authority and a selected portfolio of compulsory measures applies to them, such as domestic quarantine.
Category II: Stay in the same place with an infected person (e.g. meeting room) with speaking distance above 2m; also flight passengers seated more than two rows away from an infected passenger. Category II cases of suspected contagion are to be registered with the municipal authority and a selected portfolio of less intrusive compulsory measures applies to them, such as preventing them from activities with increased third-party contacts.
Category III: Travelers returning from areas of risk that show no symptoms. Category III cases of suspected contagion are to be registered only on a voluntary basis and are encouraged to self-monitor their health condition for a period of 14 days after their return, to voluntarily reduce their use of mass transportation and to document their contacts.
What else to observe?
- Businesses might be restricted or shut down by official order; however, a shutdown is only legitimate in scenarios of exceptional danger.
- Besides evacuation of apartments and buildings and limitation of movements, potentially infectious items can be subject to compulsory disinfection and, where disinfection does not seem feasible, can be destroyed by official order.
- The law allows compensation to be sought from the state in case of damages arising from compulsory disinfection or destruction of items, or if a business gets restricted or shut down. However, such claims must be submitted within six weeks. Also, interfering with the Pandemic Act or its related orders will lead to a loss of compensation.
Kindly note that the above information does not demonstrate the applicable legal framework in a concluding manner. Also, some of the addressed topics might be subject to short-term changes. We therefore invite you to browse through the coronavirus designated section for further information.
Author: Günther Leissler
This article is part of our coronavirus-focused legal updates – visit our coronavirus infocorner to get more info!