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HEALTH

Why coronavirus infections are again on the rise in Austria

After decreasing for several months, coronavirus infection numbers are again “increasing rapidly” in Austria. Here’s why.

Why coronavirus infections are again on the rise in Austria
A coronavirus testing centre in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

In mid November, new coronavirus infection numbers hit a peak in Austria, with the seven-day incidence rate climbing to 587 per 100,000 residents – just days before the country’s second lockdown was imposed. 

Since then – and despite one further period of relaxation before another lockdown – infection numbers have been in gradual decline, hovering just above 100 per 100,000 for the first two weeks of February. 

In recent days however, the infection rate has again begun to climb. As at February 22nd, it is now at 134 per 100,000 – with further increased predicted. 

Coronavirus infection numbers are ‘increasing rapidly’ in Austria – why?

Peter Klimek, from the Complexity Science Research Hub in Vienna, told Austria’s Kurier newspaper that new infections were “increasing rapidly” across Austria. 

Klimek said there were three primary reasons for the increase: the relaxation of the lockdown, increased testing and the spread of the coronavirus variants. 

From February 8th, Austria relaxed a number of coronavirus lockdown measures, including winding back the 24-hour stay-at-home order and allowing ‘body hugging services’ such as hairdressers and tattoo parlours to open again. 

An assessment of the official figures shows an almost immediate spike in case numbers – followed by a gradual increase in the seven-day incidence figure. 

EXPLAINED: What are Austria's new coronavirus lockdown rules? 

The lockdown relaxation on February 8th was accompanied by mandatory testing requirements to visit hairdressers and tattoo parlours, while widespread testing was also implemented at schools. 

While increased testing is seen as an essential step in identifying virus clusters and containing its spread, it also leads to increases in official infection numbers. 

Finally, the prevalence of the British and South African mutations – each of which is believed to be more infectious than known variants – is expected to have contributed to the increase. 

In some states, the British variant is already the most common form of the virus – which is an indication as to its higher infectiousness. 

In Burgenland, the British variant now represents 75 percent of all newly detected infections, while in Vienna and Lower Austria it is around 50 percent. 

“We have seen in recent weeks that the pandemic is not under control with this variant. This means that these cases double every two to four weeks right now,” Klimek said. 

Klimek said that the spread of the variant could lead to stricter lockdown measures by easter. 

“If a third wave came, we would not be able to withstand a wave as big as in autumn without it reaching the limits of capacity.”

Member comments

  1. The reason for the increase is people are tired of the lockdown and are not obeying the rules. I have seen people in my local village from as far away as Graz and Vienna, visiting during the school holidays, so they can go skiing. People are socialising at home as they are just tired of the isolation, and who could blame them. The EU has stuffed up the vaccine programme and there appears to be no hope of a change any time soon.

  2. The EU’s vaccine response is verging on being criminally irresponsible. The UK has vaccinated very nearly 18,000,000 people. How many in Austria and across the EU? This is not because we, here in Austria cannot, but because there is no Vaccine available, why?

    One could blame the French for insisting there Vaccines be used in quantity only to find out they were useless leading to scrappage and a black hole in Vaccine numbers. What say you President Macron?

    That all said the main responsibility lay with the EU Commission who’s arrogance, lack of accountability and sheer incompetence is frankly breathtaking. When this is all over EU members need to take a very serious look at EU management.

    Meanwhile the dying continues and will continue for a considerable time yet as EU citizens are offered as so much cannon fodder by a still utterly ineffectual and arrogant Commission. Percentage of EU Citizens vaccinated 3.5% UK 27%?

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HEALTH

What can we expect from the Covid situation in Austria this autumn?

The number of Covid infections has been rising in Austria recently. Austria's Health Minister Johannas Rauch has spoken out about what to expect this autumn and winter.

What can we expect from the Covid situation in Austria this autumn?

During the Covid pandemic, Austria had tough restrictions that affected the population as hospitals struggled with a rising number of patients. 

Thankfully the situation is nowhere near as critical as it once was, although the number of Covid infections has been rising lately. 

Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch, of the Greens, on Monday assured people that there was no reason to worry, although he raised concerns about the progress of Covid vaccinations in Austria. 

“We have a better overview today than a year ago,” said Rauch during a press briefing on the Covid situation, adding that this is due to Austria significantly expanding its monitoring system in recent months.

For instance, wastewater monitoring has been expanded to 48 sewage treatment plants, covering more than half of the Austrian population. Genomic sequencing evaluates wastewater samples as well as Covid tests from doctors in private practice and shows the circulating virus variants.

Rauch added that the government has a dashboard that provides “a precise overview of what is happening in the hospitals”.

The Health Minister said Covid was currently “trending upwards”, while other respiratory diseases have actually decreased.

Authorities are set to watch closely at what happens to the development of Covid and other viruses as the months get colder.

Hospitals won’t be overburdened

Rauch said authorities are optimistic that the Covid situation in hospitals will not deteriorate to levels previously seen. 

“From what we know now and how we assess it, we don’t expect an overload of hospitals,” Rauch said. “We have a good overview of what has been happening in the southern hemisphere this winter. These are indicators that we don’t currently have to worry about running into an overload situation.”

However, he pointed out that reports of people having to wait some time in Austria to get a Covid vaccination, which has been adapted to the new variants, are concerning. 

READ ALSO: What are Austria’s new Covid and RSV vaccine recommendations?

Rauch said Austria may follow other European countries and introduce Covid jabs in pharmacies to speed up availability. 

“In Austria, we have a large number of pharmacies that would be quite capable of offering this,” said Rauch. “If it doesn’t work in the general practice sector, we will organise it there.”

Austria has been recommending that people over 60 and risk groups get a Covid booster vaccine, the same advice as for the flu jab. 

However, when to get it should be discussed with your doctor, urged Rauch.

“Talk to your doctor about your personal time window, when is a booster vaccination necessary, due and appropriate,” he said. “Take advantage of this, get advice.”

On the topic of mask mandates, which were previously in force in Austria at different times in the pandemic, Rauch said at the moment mandatory face coverings are not being considered. 

However, it could return in certain areas. “There is the possibility for hospitals and surgeries to enact a mask requirement in their house rules, which must then be complied with,” said Rauch. 

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