The new COVID-19 Measures Act – The most important answers
On Sunday 15 March 2020, the Austrian Parliament adopted the COVID-19 Maßnahmengesetz (COVID-19 Measures Act). It empowers the competent authorities to prohibit access to certain business premises and certain places, at the occurrence of COVID-19. This Act aims, as a first step, at providing the legal basis for those measures that are absolutely necessary to prevent the further spread of the disease.
Which groups of business premises can be banned from access?
The Act empowers the Federal Minister of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK) to issue an ordinance (Verordnung) prohibiting the entry of business premises.
However, the delegated power is limited. Only access to a business premises "for the purpose of acquiring goods and services" can be prohibited, regardless of whether the potential customer is a final consumer or a business operator.
Owners of business premises and their employees or persons providing services (e.g. cleaning services) at these premises are not affected by the ban on entering the premises.
The BMSGPK may exempt certain groups of undertakings from this ban (this concerns in particular the supply of food, medical products, health and care services, banking services, etc.). For these privileged sectors, however, it may be foreseen, that they can only be used by a certain number of people - if necessary defined in proportion to the commercial space – and for a certain time period.
Is it also possible to prohibit access to certain places?
Yes, the competent authority may prohibit access to certain places (e.g. children's playgrounds, sports grounds, lake and river banks or consumption-free zones). These places can be specified in the ordinance in the abstract ("children's playgrounds", "sports grounds") or by a precise specification of the location (e.g. concerning certain consumption-free zones, local areas, municipalities) or a combination of both (children's playgrounds in a certain province). This ban to access may be limited to certain time periods.
The prohibition to enter certain places must be issued by:
- the BMSGPK for the entire federal territory (gesamte Bundesgebiet),
- the state governor for the entire territory of a province (gesamte Landesgebiet), or
- the district administrative authority for the political district (Bezirk) or parts thereof.
What are the sanctions for an infringement?
For an infringement of bans on entry authorities may impose a fine of:
- up to EUR 3,600 for anyone who enters the business premises or place
- up to EUR 30,000, if the owner of the business premises does not ensure that the business premises are not entered.
- up to EUR 3,600, if the owner of the business premises does not ensure that the business premises are entered by no more than the number of persons specified in the ordinance.
When will the COVID-19 Measures Act enter into force?
The Act came into force on Monday, 16 March 2020, 0:00 am.
An ordinance of the competent authority based on this Act would enter into force upon publication and would be expected to apply for a certain time period.
Why was a separate COVID-19 Measures Act passed and not the Epidemics Act 1950 retained as the legal basis?
Various measures to cope with the so-called "corona crisis" were already adopted on the basis of the Epidemics Act 1950. However, as the pandemic progressed, the measures to be taken on the basis of the Epidemics Act turned out to be insufficient to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. For example, Section 20 of the Epidemics Act 1950 could not serve as an adequate legal basis for imposing an Austria-wide ban on entering premises.
The legislator has therefore decided to enact a separate legislative act.
However, this also means that no claims for compensation or remuneration may be raised by the employer or employees under the Epidemics Act 1950 if access to business premises is banned by ordinance.
Please note: This newsletter merely provides general information and does not constitute legal advice of any kind from Binder Grösswang Rechtsanwälte GmbH. The newsletter cannot replace individual legal consultation. Binder Grösswang Rechtsanwälte GmbH assumes no liability whatsoever for the content and correctness of the newsletter.
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