What is a social meeting

How our social life has been regulated for a year

For over a year, our lives have been regulated to an extent that most of them could never imagine before Corona. Private life is being circled more and more, hundreds of pages of regulation texts regulate everyday life in ever greater detail. What is regulated and how strongly should have a lot to do with the analysis of the infection process, but ultimately depends primarily on the political decisions, which always have different motivations. It is clear that fighting a pandemic is primarily about one thing: reducing contact.

Therefore, after a year of pandemic, DER STANDARD takes a look at the restrictions on social life - i.e. everything that has to do with when we were allowed to meet which friends and family members and when we should actually be completely alone. What guidelines have we actually been living by since it all began?

One day in March

In any case, it officially began on March 17th. Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) issued the first ordinance that regulated the circumstances under which one can leave one's own four walls. A formulation was used that later became the undoing of the Ministry of Health: Entering public places was generally prohibited - which months later gave the Constitutional Court an opportunity to repeal the provision.

Exceptions were recorded, which should still allow entering public places: the famous "three reasons", of which Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) kept talking. In fact, there were already five reasons that existed back then: averting danger, helping, working, shopping. In the notorious "Clause 5" it was stated: "When public places in the open air are to be entered alone, with people who live in the same household". There was a minimum distance of one meter from other people.

This number sparked heated discussions. Does that mean you can just go out anyway? In the months that followed, this provision was tinkered with from regulation to regulation. In the initial phase, regulations were sometimes even changed again and again on the same day. For example, with regard to the home office obligation: This was, if reasonable, valid for a few hours before it was abolished on the same day. Large parts of the population still do not know what exactly they are allowed to do in everyday life and what not and are accordingly unsettled.

How many are many?

At that time there was still no talk of a person's upper limit. Actually, it was always conveyed, one should be alone - or with members of the household. The notorious Easter decree, which then did not come, let the discussion escalate. Suddenly it was said that meetings in a closed room were only allowed if only five people were present. What then applied before was the question that suddenly appeared at the table.

Ministers and officials wiped these and others away more or less elegantly. In the end, they got themselves out of the affair by claiming that the discussion was obsolete because the lockdown would be extended anyway. A clear excuse not to have to admit that the private space had never been regulated until then, and still pretended to be. That too should change over the course of the months.

The first loosening

When the easing ordinance came at the end of April, few suspected that many tightening and easing regulations were still to come. In any case, the first hard lockdown was ended after about a month and a half. Entering public places was again allowed, the famous one-meter distance remained. Events with more than ten people were prohibited.

A point where legal opinions still differ today. Because it is based largely on a passage of law that actually allows the confluence of larger crowds to be regulated. And how big is a large crowd? The Federal Council recently delayed the specification of the passage of the law.

Ten did not stay long, at the end of May the number of people allowed rose to 100, followed by a summer that in retrospect felt light and airy and barely regulated - of course there were rules, but they were relaxed. Until things suddenly moved quickly in autumn: 100 became 50, became ten, became six, until an experiment was started at the beginning of November.

From light to hard to light

A so-called "lockdown light" was imposed, which for the first time brought an exit restriction that only applied at night. The trade, however, remained open for the time being. This time, however, entry into public places was not strictly forbidden, instead leaving one's own four walls was restricted - a legal difference, but not a practical one.

Between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. you needed one of the well-known reasons to go out again. However, the previously controversial "Item 5" became the "Outdoor stay for physical and mental relaxation". A regulation that left a lot of room for interpretation.

Private space as a taboo

And: for the first time, private space was also intervened - at least to a certain extent. From now on, event rules also applied to barns, garages and cellars - from then on the unregulated radius only revolved around the actual living area - i.e. the rooms in which one also lives.

Contrary to the belief of many, it is not a matter of course that it is still free of Corona rules. Not regulating it has so far been a conscious decision of the government. The amendment that the National Council created in March 2021 and which was temporarily blocked by the Federal Council would also open a few doors: According to medical lawyer Karl Stöger, the health minister's room for maneuver would then go so far that he would require a test or mask (but no authorization requirement ) for events in private spaces.

What would remain is the question of control. The legal situation continues to rule out the fact that the police control such corona rules in private living space, but that too would not be unchangeable.

Always the same means

Since mid-November one has been treading on the spot. Since then, it has not been possible to reduce the number of infections to a low level again. The next lockdown came, the five reasons became nine - at this point the Chancellor continued to speak of three or four reasons. In addition, it was explicitly stated for the first time that you can also set out to meet your partner, to look for an apartment or to vote.

The intention was also to enable social contacts away from the life partner beyond doubt - which caused confusion for weeks. It was stipulated that contact with "individual closest relatives" and "individual important caregivers, with whom contact is usually maintained several times a week" is possible.

After escalating debates and disagreement even among top lawyers, it was stated in the legal justifications that only one person is allowed to meet a household at a time. A rule that still applies today when exit restrictions apply.

Christmas as an outlier

At the beginning of December, the country went back to lockdown light - there was an outlier at Christmas. The exit restrictions were suspended and ten people from ten households were allowed to come together - which, by the standards of the time, made major social events possible. And the discipline on New Year's Eve, when the hard lockdown had long been in effect again, had probably decreased. There was something else remarkable about the Christmas rule: it also explicitly applied to private living areas. At this point, there was definitive confusion even among the news savvy.

Since the end of January you have to keep a distance of two meters in public spaces. Experts emphasize that this is a sensible change for infectious reasons. But also one that makes meetings even more difficult: For example, most people do not manage to always stand two meters apart at meetings. A fact that, at least in Vienna, leads to sometimes rigorous police checks.

And although mutations continued to spread and the number of infections hardly fell, it was relaxed at the beginning of February: The initial rule was again only valid at night, when it came to meetings, it was agreed on the cumbersome but precise formulation that the day was made up of four people from two Households and six children are allowed. Once again, the approach to regionalization was taken: the country was divided into three zones, where zero, four or 100 people are allowed to come together - despite Anschober's wish to extend the lockdown.

More precise, but no longer effective

There are also three things that become apparent when analyzing all the ordinances that have been issued. First: They became more professional - details were constantly being refined and gaps closed. Many lawyers consider it questionable that some of the laws have been adapted to the ordinances - not the other way around. If you consider, for example, that the Covid 19 Measures Act had to be born.

Second: Even if it was evidently overslept to intervene in the infection process in good time, the private sector was regulated with noticeable strictness in the second half of 2020. In some periods trade and leisure activities were open, but at the same time you weren't even allowed to see a handful of best friends.

Thirdly, and this is the biggest problem you face: the measures are clearly no longer working as they should. So you muddle between lockdown and lockdown light. This is problematic - also from a legal point of view. Waiting for a widespread vaccination should be plan B at best. The challenge remains to restrict areas with the necessary rigor to cut off the virus and to operate with the greatest possible freedom where it is possible. Because the measures will and can only be dropped once the pandemic has been contained. No matter how long it takes. (Vanessa Gaigg, Gabriele Scherndl, April 4th, 2021)