A regional approach is emerging in Austria in the fight against the corona pandemic. At the Corona summit planned for Monday in the Chancellery, of course, no major loosening is to be expected. Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Sunday that politicians must “take all necessary measures on Monday so that the intensive care units do not collapse anywhere”. He also spoke out in favor of an “emergency brake” in particularly badly affected regions.
Actually, there should have been more easing steps on Monday: The federal government originally announced that it would allow outdoor restaurants to open from March 27th. At the moment, only in Vorarlberg – which has significantly lower infection rates than the rest of the country – the first easings are in force. In view of the current situation, Anschober slowed down expectations significantly.
On Sunday, with 2,713 new infections, an increase compared to the previous week (2,503) was recorded, the seven-day incidence per 100,000 population climbed to 231.3. “The situation in many intensive care units will be dramatic if strong and effective countermeasures are not taken very quickly in the regions most affected,” said Anschober in a broadcast on Sunday. “We have to have the courage to pull the emergency brake in individual regions that are particularly badly affected.”
The minister referred to the difficult situation, especially in eastern Austria, due to the particularly strong dominance of the British virus variant B.1.1.7 .. The number of infections and the number of stresses in the intensive care units are “extremely different” from region to region. “That is why we will need very different tailor-made measures for different regions tomorrow.” In individual regions, the situation is not only reminiscent of autumn, but it “could even become more dramatic if no adequate countermeasures were taken”.
An urgent warning came on Sunday from the President of the Austrian Society for Anesthesiology, Resuscitation and Intensive Care Medicine (ÖGARI), Klaus Markstaller: The situation was “increasingly dramatic,” he said in a broadcast. In some regions, especially in the east, the intensive care units are already largely or even fully utilized.
Also short for a differentiated approach
Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) also advocated a differentiated approach at the weekend: “We want to continue” the path of regionalization in opening steps, he said on Saturday. At the same time, he once again reinforced his conviction that Austria could return to “normalcy” in the summer. “Eight million vaccine doses will be available by the end of June”, so all Austrians ready to be vaccinated could receive at least one vaccination by then, according to his prognosis.
Specific details about possible loosening or tightening did not leak out before the talks on Monday. In the media, there was speculation about a “three-way division” of the country – divided into the different regions affected.
There was also an extension of the Easter holidays in the room. Several experts – such as the complexity researcher Peter Klimek and the epidemiologist Gerald Gartlehner – had recently spoken out in favor. Rejection came from the Federal Association of Parents’ Associations in Middle and High Schools. It was owed to the students to return to normal operations as soon as possible – “regionally differentiated if necessary” – the association said on Saturday.
Experts – in addition to Gartlehner and virologist Dorothee von Laer from the Med-Uni Innsbruck – also suggested making home office compulsory. Vienna’s City Councilor for Health Peter Hacker (SPÖ) clearly rejected this, referring to the “realities of life of the average population”: “For many, working from home means having to work in the kitchen – with three school-age children.”
Like other national representatives, Hacker pleaded on Sunday for an opening of outdoor restaurants, regardless of the infection situation: “We cannot ask the population to remain locked in for months, we have to offer them opportunities to meet in the open air,” he said the press”. “I am sticking with it and think it is feasible to open pub gardens from the end of March.”
Tyrol’s governor Günther Platter (ÖVP) also declared on Saturday that the people in Tyrol would “long for relaxation”. Lower Austria’s governor Johanne Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) spoke out in favor of “allowing social contacts in a regulated manner, for example in a pub”. And also in the office of Carinthian Governor Peter Kaiser (SPÖ), reference was made to his position at the weekend, according to which he prefers meetings outside instead of inside, “better controlled than uncontrolled”.
SPÖ boss against easing
The red country representatives were in contradiction to the SPÖ chairman Pamela Rendi-Wagner: “I consider further easing to be ruled out. That would add fuel to the fire,” she said on Sunday and warned of a “collapse of the intensive care units”. The FPÖ and NEOS also called for quick action, albeit with a different focus: FPÖ boss Norbert Hofer was ready for “any form of cooperation” that “can lead Austria out of the crisis more quickly,” but still refused a lockdown. NEOS boss Beate Meinl-Reisinger pleaded for “faster vaccination and testing” and “more differentiated measures” than before.
The issue of the rules for the Easter holidays should also be a topic on Monday. The Ministry of Health is thinking of easing the visiting rules, as can be seen from the minutes of the commission’s meeting that became public on Friday. The aim is to orientate oneself on the rules that were prescribed for Christmas. At that time, the nocturnal exit restrictions were completely lifted, and up to ten people from up to ten different households were allowed to meet. At the moment, meetings of a maximum of four people from two different households plus underage children are again permitted. (apa)