Public law measures and orders against COVID-19

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Which laws are applicable and what are the most important regulations?

  • Epidemic Law 1950
  • COVID-19-Measures Law

The legal basis for the measures imposed by the federal government last week is the Epidemic Law of 1913, which was re-introduced in 1950. The object and aim of the law are to combat notifiable transmissible diseases. This includes COVID-19.

Obligations and measures under the Epidemics Act are special reporting and notification obligations of sick persons, the isolation of sick persons (quarantine), measures of disinfection, exclusion of persons from and closure of schools, restrictions on the movement of food, surveillance of certain persons, prohibition of gatherings of people, evacuation of flats as well as traffic restrictions for the inhabitants of certain localities and in cross-border traffic with foreign countries and closure of businesses.

Crowds of more than 500 people outside closed rooms or in the open or more than 100 people in a closed room were already banned last week based on the Epidemic Law. This applies to such events that are to be held in companies, businesses, schools (e.g. school trips), in higher education establishments, kindergartens, nursing homes, for religious purposes or in tourist facilities and sights. Excluded from this are, among other things, meetings in institutions for the maintenance of health care, in connection with the satisfaction of the basic needs of public life, work activities in companies, works meetings and public transport as well as the facilities and plants directly belonging to the company.

Traffic restrictions for the inhabitants of certain localities have already been imposed for the entire Paznaun valley and the ski resort of St Anton in Tyrol and the village of Heiligenblut in Carinthia, as media reports indicate. Foreign guests were still allowed to leave, but the inhabitants of the above-mentioned closed villages and the Paznaun valley were not allowed to leave this area for an estimated 14 days and third parties were not allowed to “enter” the closed zones. Furthermore, a curfew is to be imposed in Tyrol as early as Sunday on the basis of the Epidemic Law.

With the COVID-19-Measures Law passed in the National Council on Sunday, a new legal basis was created which partially derogates the Epidemics Act. Although this is still valid, two important new competences were created, and measures were drawn to the federal level:

  • Plant closures are no longer covered by the Epidemic Law, but under the COVID-19-Measures Law the Minister of Health can now prohibit the “entering of premises for the purpose of purchasing goods and services“. The Epidemic Law and its regulations on plant closures are then no longer applicable. This also means that the compensation for loss of earnings provided for in the Epidemic Law regarding business premises is no longer applicable.
  • The ordinance can also prohibit access to certain places, such as children’s playgrounds, sports fields, lake and riverbanks or consumption-free zones.

Which companies are specifically affected by the plant closure?

It is prohibited to enter the customer area of business premises of retailers and service providers as well as leisure and sports businesses for the purpose of purchasing goods or services or using leisure and sports facilities.

Companies in which there is no contact with customers are therefore not affected by the ban. These will be manufacturing companies, unless they sell locally produced goods at the same time.

The owner of the business premises and his employees or persons who provide services there (e.g. cleaning work) are not affected by the prohibition of entry.

There are exceptions to the prohibition of entry in the following areas:

  • Public pharmacies;
  • Food retailers (including outlets of food producers) and farmers’ direct marketers
  • Drugstores;
  • Sale of medical and sanitary products, remedies and aids;
  • Health and care services;
  • Services for people with disabilities provided by the Länder under the laws on disability assistance, social assistance, participation and equal opportunities;
  • Veterinary services;
  • Sale of animal feed;
  • Sale and maintenance of security and emergency products;
  • Emergency services;
  • Agricultural trade including auctions of slaughter animals as well as horticultural business and trade in agricultural products such as seeds, feed and fertilizers;
  • Gas stations;
  • Banks;
  • Post including postal partners and telecommunications;
  • Legal and judicial services;
  • Delivery services;
  • Public transport;
  • Tobacco shops and newspaper kiosks;
  • Hygiene and cleaning services;
  • Waste disposal companies;
  • Car repair shops.

A legally non-binding but helpful interpretation guide is provided by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.

Restaurants, bars and other hospitality establishments are generally closed from 16.3.2020 15:00 hrs, although a delivery service remains permissible in any case. Excluded from this are catering establishments in:

  • Hospitals and health resorts;
  • nursing homes and homes for the elderly;
  • facilities for the care and accommodation of children and adolescents including
  • Schools and kindergartens;
  • establishments, if these may only be used by employees.

In accommodation establishments, on campsites and in public transport, food and drink may only be served to guests.

It is prohibited to enter the customer area of business premises of retailers and service providers as well as leisure and sports businesses for the purpose of purchasing goods or services or using leisure and sports facilities.

Companies in which there is no contact with customers are therefore not affected by the ban. These will be manufacturing companies, unless they sell locally produced goods at the same time.

The owner of the business premises and his employees or persons who provide services there (e.g. cleaning work) are not affected by the prohibition of entry.

There are exceptions to the prohibition of entry in the following areas:

  • Public pharmacies;
  • Food retailers (including outlets of food producers) and farmers’ direct marketers
  • Drugstores;
  • Sale of medical and sanitary products, remedies and aids;
  • Health and care services;
  • Services for people with disabilities provided by the Länder under the laws on disability assistance, social assistance, participation and equal opportunities;
  • Veterinary services;
  • Sale of animal feed;
  • Sale and maintenance of security and emergency products;
  • Emergency services;
  • Agricultural trade including auctions of slaughter animals as well as horticultural business and trade in agricultural products such as seeds, feed and fertilizers;
  • Gas stations;
  • Banks;
  • Post including postal partners and telecommunications;
  • Legal and judicial services;
  • Delivery services;
  • Public transport;
  • Tobacco shops and newspaper kiosks;
  • Hygiene and cleaning services;
  • Waste disposal companies;
  • Car repair shops.

A legally non-binding but helpful interpretation guide is provided by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber here:

Restaurants, bars and other hospitality establishments are generally closed from 16.3.2020 15:00 hrs, although a delivery service remains permissible in any case. Excluded from this are catering establishments in:

  • Hospitals and health resorts;
  • nursing homes and homes for the elderly;
  • facilities for the care and accommodation of children and adolescents including
  • Schools and kindergartens;
  • establishments, if these may only be used by employees.

In accommodation establishments, on campsites and in public transport, food and drink may only be served to guests.

Are there any curfews?

There is a general ban on entering public places. The following entries are permitted:

  • which are necessary to avert an immediate danger to life, health and property and the use of means of mass transportation in connection therewith;
  • which serve for the care and assistance of persons in need of support and the related use of means of mass transportation;
  • which are necessary to meet the basic needs of daily life and which ensure that a distance of at least one metre can be maintained between persons at the place where the needs are met and the related use of means of mass transport;
  • which are necessary for professional purposes and which ensure that a distance of at least one metre can be maintained between persons at the place of professional activity and the related use of means of mass transport;
  • if public places in the open air are to be entered alone, with persons living in the same household or with pets, a distance of at least one metre must be maintained from other persons.

How long do these measures apply?

The restrictions have already come into force and are valid until 22.3.2020.

Will I receive compensation as a company affected?

The aim of the COVID-19-Measures Law was probably to “avoid” compensation claims according to the Epidemic Law, even if the materials do not say so. It is clear, however, that if a ban on entering a company for the purpose of acquiring goods and services is imposed under the COVID-19-Measures Law, the provisions of the Epidemic Act concerning the closure of businesses do not apply in such a case, so that the claim for compensation (claim for compensation for loss of earnings) under the Epidemic Act also ceases to apply in the event of business closures.

The COVID 19 crisis management fund, however, will also include measures to compensate the loss of revenue as a result of the crisis.

However, the Epidemic Law and the right to compensation enshrined in it do not cease to apply in its entirety; it remains in force, for example, if no prohibition to enter a business premises has been issued, but the trader is subject to traffic restrictions in a prohibited zone and therefore the trade cannot be carried on. One could also consider a claim for compensation for loss of earnings at events which have to be cancelled due to the ban on the gathering of crowds. These probably do not fall under the COVID-19-Measures Law, which is why a compensation claim under the Epidemics Act is conceivable here.

Are there consequences if a company does not comply with These requirements (e.g. closure of shops)?

The COVID-19-Measures Law act provides for penal provisions. Anyone who enters prohibited establishments or places must expect a fine of up to EUR 3,600.00; owners of establishments can be punished with up to EUR 30,000.00 if they fail to ensure compliance with the ban on entering. In addition, the Epidemic Law also provides for administrative penalties of EUR 1,450.00 if, for example, the prohibition of crowds is not observed; otherwise the upper limit in the Epidemic Law is EUR 2,180.00.

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