In order to make the pandemic controllable again, the Austrians should stay at home. there will also be mass tests soon.
The Austrian government is again using the sledgehammer to combat the corona pandemic. As Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Saturday afternoon together with other members of the government, a “hard” lockdown will apply from Tuesday. The country should largely come to a standstill. All shops and service providers that do not meet basic needs must close. In addition, there is a full-day curfew: Citizens are only allowed to leave the house for important errands, caring for relatives and professional obligations as well as for physical and mental relaxation.
“Each contact is one too many,” said Kurz dramatically. “Don’t meet anyone.” The reduction of social life is the only way to get the pandemic under control, even if this makes many people angry. The lockdown should last three weeks. In December, in order to better assess the areas in which social life can get going again, mass antigen tests should also be carried out along the lines of Slovakia be carried out, for example in schools. The Chancellor announced further details for next week.
Austria is one of the world leaders in terms of new infections per capita. These are increasing unchecked, even though the government in Vienna had already drastically restricted public life at the end of October. At that time it closed restaurants, bars, sports facilities and cultural institutions and imposed an extensive curfew between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Nevertheless, the number of daily infections has doubled since then to just under 10,000.
The reasons for the explosive increase are only partially clear. This shows, for example, that mobility has decreased significantly less than in spring and most of the household get infected. But the contact tracers admit that this rather vague category also conceals other sources of infection that simply could not have been identified. The tracing of cases, which has been carried out very professionally in Austria for a long time, is currently collapsing under the sheer number: Only 23 percent can be assigned to a cluster.
Schools are closed
It is difficult to pursue a coherent, science-based policy in these circumstances. For months, the opposition has been criticizing, often rightly, the lack of transparency and poor data availability on which the government’s decisions are based. This has a lot to do with the poorly functioning coordination of regional and national authorities within Austrian federalism.
In addition, experts often disagree on key issues. This can also be seen in the controversy over the complete closure of schools, which was announced on Saturday. According to reports, Chancellor Kurz implemented it – against resistance not only from the green junior partner, but also from representatives of his conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) in the federal states. There is controversy among scientists in Austria as to how strongly children and adolescents act as infection drivers. Studies come to different results.
At the press conference, Kurz let it be known that schools should not be written off as sources of infections because it is often unclear where they took place. Many parents also complain that schools reacted chaotically to corona cases. On Thursday, the experts from the government’s own Corona traffic light commission spoke out against closing schools for children under 14 years of age.
Social and economic considerations are also mixed in with the resistance, which many companies also support. Going to work becomes much more difficult for parents. Socially disadvantaged people who have little financial or professional maneuvering space are particularly affected. For this reason, kindergartens and schools should remain open to those who need them. However, in spring many parents encountered passive resistance and moral pressure from schools when they called for this claim.
Hospitals at the limit
The hospitals fear that their tense staffing situation will be exacerbated by the school closings. Doctors report of dramatic conditions on the Covid-19 wards, which can hardly cope with the onslaught. On Sunday, 3425 corona patients were in hospitals, 581 of them in intensive care units. In the federal state of Carinthia, for example, more than 80 percent of the beds are occupied. According to health experts, triage, i.e. the selection of patients who can still be treated, is imminent if the infections are not reduced.
Most of the infections are mild. But the numbers are so high that even the estimated one percent that requires intensive medical treatment is a major burden. For the first time, the pandemic in Austria led to excess mortality at the end of October: the deaths were a quarter higher than the long-term average. A third of the 1629 corona deaths so far died in the last two weeks.
Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the new lockdown will be followed as disciplined as the one in spring. A recent Gallup poll shows a contradicting picture: although over 80 percent think the pandemic is out of control, almost 40 percent also think the danger it poses is exaggerated. Less than half of them want to be vaccinated.
All of this points to a considerable skepticism towards government policy, of which the government itself is not entirely innocent. At the end of the summer, Kurz announced prematurely that he saw “light at the end of the tunnel”, and the quarrels within the coalition contributed to the uncertainty. The impression given by the ÖVP at the beginning of the second wave that it was primarily the big cities that had a problem contributed to a certain nonchalance in the rural regions, which are now also heavily affected.
However, the criticism of the government is also a bit cheap: Practically all European states fail because of the conflict of goals of keeping infections low, taking economic interests into account and still pursuing a coherent policy. This is no different in Austria, which is also currently fighting the consequences of a terrorist attack. How paradoxical the reactions of the Austrian population are, became apparent on Saturday, when people stood in line in front of numerous shops to quickly stock up on discounted items before the lockdown.
Probably not only in Vienna does the observer get the impression that, in addition to conspiracy theorists, many fundamentally reasonable people have decided to ignore the pandemic – simply because they are fed up with it. This also means that the official information and instructions are reaching fewer and fewer people. This is a conflict-prone starting point for the lockdown that is now beginning.