Global Response to COVID-19: State of Exception in Austria and New Zealand


Comparative study of legal-economic responses to COVID-19 by Mag. Thomas Buocz and Tess Upperton, LL.B.(Hons), B.A.

Together with more than 120 young scholars from all regions of the world, Mag. Thomas Buocz (Austria) and Tess Upperton, LL.B.(Hons), B.A. (New Zealand)  have participated in a comparative study of legal-economic responses to COVID-19.

Mr. Buocz is is a research associate in Professor Iris Eisenberger’s team at the Institute for

Public Law and Political Science, Ms. Upperton is a Land Steiermark Fellow at the Faculty of Law at the University of Graz.

In their reports, Mr. Buocz and Ms. Upperton analyse whether a state of exception had been adopted in Austria respective New Zealand during the first wave of infections and what consequences this had for both countries. Their reports answer the following questions:

  • Has a state of emergency been declared?
    If so, for how long? With what justification? Who activated it?
  • Who was competent to do what in the COVID-19 response?
    What were the respective roles of the legislative, executive, and judicial branch of government?
  • What role did scientific expertise play?
    Were special taskforces established? Was there a monitoring system for epidemiological data?


Mr. Buocz covered the Austrian response. He found that “[t]he Austrian constitution does not provide a legal basis for formally declaring a ‘state of exception’. Rather, it contains individual provisions that only apply when extraordinary circumstances are present. However, in its regulatory response to COVID-19, Austria has not made use of these constitutional provisions. Instead, the main basis for its regulatory response consisted of federal law that was already in place (e.g. the Epidemics Act or the Border Control Act) and federal law that was newly adopted (e.g. the COVID-19 Measures Act or the COVID-19 Fund Act). These federal statutes have been concretised by the federal government, mostly the Federal Minister of Health, through numerous regulations. ‘Extraordinary circumstances’ were expressly referred to in justifying the delay of regional elections and the extension of military service.”


Ms. Upperton covered the New Zealand response. She found that “[t]he establishment of a state of emergency and associated epidemic notices enabled the Director-General of Health, rather than Parliament or a Minister, to largely control the nature of Aotearoa’s regulatory measures in response to COVID-19. Accordingly, these measures were rapid and flexible, and could be made on a scientific basis. The measures were also short-term and provided an immediate response until longer-term legislation and Ministerial orders took effect. However, this approach was also met with criticism due to the sweeping nature of the executive measures implemented without Parliamentary involvement […].”


Other reports also dealt with questions of surveillance, financial law, and labour law. All reports are available here: