Since 16 March 2020, church services in Austria had been largely suspended.

From 15 May 2020, church services will be held again throughout the country. Parallel to the currently  Covid 19 measures, a gradual opening has been prepared by the churches and religious communities in coordination with the Federal Government. Minister of Culture Susanne Raab (ÖVP) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn presented these on a press conference on Thursday.

High risk of infection during church services

Minister Susanne Raab emphasized that the time has now come to take a “step towards normality”, albeit “with caution, so that we can always observe how the infection figures develop”. The Minister said that the starting point for resuming church services was not an easy one since the risk of infection was higher in enclosed spaces. “People come together over a longer period of time, singing and praying together,“ the Minister said.

Duty to wear masks and limited number of participants

The religious communities had agreed with the responsible ministry on measures how the services should be held until further notice. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn emphasized that they were aware that an opening would have to be carried out “very carefully and consciously”. “15 May will be the first opportunity for us to celebrate services in public again,“ the Cardinal noted. Raab contend that the measures are “not a law, a regulation or a decree, because the state does not regulate religious life, but rather these are conditions we have agreed on with the religious communities”.

Limiting the total number of participants

The person in charge of the public worship service ensures that a maximum number of believers participate in the service at the same time so that 20 m² of the total area of the worship room are available for each participant.

Admission control

The observance of the maximum number of persons and the minimum distance in the church service room must be ensured by an admission control.

Mouth and nose protection

Participants in the service wear a mouth and nose protector as a barrier against droplet infection; this does not apply to children under the age of six.

Keeping distance, disinfection

In any case, a distance of two metres must be kept from other people. Surfaces or devices (e.g. door handles) that are regularly touched by people celebrating must be regularly cleaned and disinfected.

Finally, Schönborn appealed to the religious communities that “even more solidarity and more togetherness is needed, many have been affected by this crisis”. “Humanity is a family and in this family we must stand together worldwide – even beyond the borders of our religious community. The Cardinal also announced to celebrate a big thanksgiving mass in Vienna’s St. Stephan’s Cathedral in the future, when everything comes back to normal.

— Hector Pascua, source: Press Conference on Thursday, 23  April, 2020

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