Today in Austria: A round up of the latest news on Monday

Find out what's going on in Austria with the Local's short roundup of today's news.

Woman being vaccinated

Company doctors could begin giving vaccinations in May 

Company doctors – i.e. in-house doctors serving one or a handful of companies or businesses – should start giving vaccines from the beginning of May as well as vaccination centres and GPs.

The Austrian vaccination plan is back on track thanks to the early Biontech/Pfizer delivery, according to the Ministry of Health’s vaccine coordinator Katharina Reich, Der Standard newspaper reports. 

More than two million doses have been administered so far.

The vaccination of the over 65-year-olds has already been completed in many federal states, in May the over 50-year-olds will have their turn and by the end of June everyone should receive a vaccination who wants one.

Vienna opening plan hangs in the balance

It is still undecided whether Vienna will open up its museums and retail when its current lockdown expires on 2nd May, broadcaster ORF reports.

A spokesman for the Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) confirmed this yesterday in response to an APA request.

A decision will made on Tuesday. It is also unclear if Vienna will open its restaurants and hospitality when Austria opens up its gastronomy, culture, tourism and sport on 19th May. 

READ MORE: Austria to relax most coronavirus measures on May 19th

Experts concerned about plan to open up Austria in May 

Experts are concerned about Austria’s plans to open up in mid May, Der Standard newspaper reports. Virologist  Dorothee von Laer  believes warmer weather and increased vaccination could allow openings.

However, she warns against unlocking in regions such as Tyrol where a virus mutation is circulating.

Microbiologist Michael Wagner thinks the opening plan is “too risky”, it is reported. APA reports the traffic light commission chairman Ulrich Herzog said that the current situation shows parallels to that in autumn, when the number of infections subsequently increased explosively. 

One million people tested for coronavirus with gargle tests

Around one million people have been tested for coronavirus using Vienna’s gargle tests according to Der Standard newspaper. Of these, 0.56 percent were positive, meaning 5,748 Covid infections were detected.

Seven day incidence at 182

The seven day incidence, or number of coronavirus infections per 100,000 people is is 182.

Vorarlberg currently has the highest incidence (240.2), followed by Vienna (214.0). The value is lowest in Burgenland (99.9) and Lower Austria (126.3), according to broadcaster ORF

Children return to school in Vienna and Lower Austria

All schoolchildren are returning to schools in Vienna and Lower Austria today, broadcaster ORF reports. Until May 16, elementary schools will receive face to face classes, while children will be taught in shifts at middle schools, special schools, AHS, vocational schools and vocational schools – with the exception of those in the final year of school. 

Austria 16th for start up financing in Europe

Ernst and Young data shows Austria ranked 16th in start-up financing in Europe in 2020, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports.

The total amount of the publicly known financing rose in from €183 to €212 million. The crypto trading platform Bitpanda received the most funding in Austria, €45.6 million, followed by the construction app company Planradar with €30 million euros and the marketing data start-up Adverity with €26.3 million. 

Climate law could mean automatic tax increases

A draft for the climate protection law planned by the ÖVP and the Greens provides for automatic tax increases should CO2 emissions deviate from the climate targets set, Die Presse newspaper reports,  picking up on reporting originally in the Krone newspaper.

Environment Minister Gewessler confirmed on Sunday in the ORF “press hour” that this was a proposal from her department to prevent climate targets from being missed again as in the past. Gewessler said if the government did not act it could cost €9 billion by 2030. 

More investment in sustainable funds

The Austrian fund volume of sustainable investment funds increased in the first quarter by around €2.7 billion to €20.1 billion euros Die Presse newspaper reports.

The net inflows of the sustainable investment funds amounted to around €1.8 billion.

Die Presse newspaper argues the sustainability trend is also an argument for the industry to make actively managed funds attractive to investors, because active funds generally generate more money for the banks than passive ETFs, which only track an index.

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EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.