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CONFRONTING CORONAVIRUS

Confronting coronavirus: The Local examines how Europe is tackling the crisis

In a new series of articles, The Local's journalists across Europe will take an in-depth look at the responses to different parts of the crisis, what's worked, what hasn't, and why.

Confronting coronavirus: The Local examines how Europe is tackling the crisis
If a programme has had positive results, we'll look at how it could be replicated; if it's failed, we'll investigate why. Photo: AFP

The coronavirus epidemic has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of each community it has affected, and given us an opportunity to learn from each other's successes and failures. Amid states of emergency and global travel restrictions, the world may feel smaller, but it's a time when collaboration and looking outwards has never been more important.

No country has stopped the pandemic or solved the accompanying crisis, but there are initiatives being implemented to deal with its devastating impact.

From the development of new treatments to government aid for businesses and from ways of dealing with loneliness to financial support for freelancers, there is now a worldwide focus on trying to mitigate the harmful impact of this virus.

Over the coming weeks The Local's journalists, based at the heart of affected communities, will take a detailed look at some of the solutions put forward to deal with the huge knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

This will include large-scale responses by governments, for example how France and Germany have tried to support small businesses and how Switzerland has tried to help parents affected by the crisis. It will also include smaller-scale responses, such as efforts by a region, community group, or individual hospitals or business to mitigate the impact of the outbreak.

You can view the articles published so far in our new section on all homepages titled Confronting Coronavirus.

Looking at how countries are facing the pandemic, and evaluating how well different strategies are working, is essential not only to highlight the signs of progress, but also for holding decision-makers to account.

These articles will inform the rest of our coverage moving forward. If a programme has had positive results in one location, we'll look at what it would take to export that response elsewhere. If it's failed, we can look at what would be needed to improve it. Responses can't be copied entirely with an expectation of the same results in a different contexts, but we'll look for key takeaways that can inform policies elsewhere.

It doesn't mean we'll be switching our focus; we will continue to report on the problems that are still awaiting a response. And don't worry, we will also keep writing the essential practical guides and up-to-date news reports you need in order to navigate life here.

We also know that the crisis has a unique impact on the lives of those living outside their home country, who may lack a support network in their new home, and are often more likely to have insecure housing and employment. As always, our readers will be at the core of our coverage, and we will continue speaking to you about your experiences of the crisis.

This kind of in-depth, responsible reporting is essential, but it costs money. This project has been supported by a $5,000 grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.

Thanks to this grant, all articles in the section will be free for other media outlets to republish.

As well as the Solutions Journalism Network, we are grateful for the support of our community of paying members. The 25,000 of you who have joined us have not only helped us to survive the crisis up until now, but allowed us to focus this important reporting on issues that affect our readers' lives and not just stories to garner 'clicks'.

If you would like to support The Local in our goal to provide essential and responsible English-language reporting from across Europe during this crisis and beyond, you can find out more here.

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ECONOMY

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: Why is Wien Energie asking for €6 billion from the Austrian government?

Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

READ NEXT: ‘We need immigration’: Austrian minister insists foreign workers are the only solution

The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The Covid-19 measures for the start of the Austrian school year

There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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