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School’s out: Why are Austrian students studying in a 19th-century church?

Throughout the day, hushed voices fill Vienna's Votivkirche church, but not in prayer: the coronavirus pandemic has led to its tall, neo-Gothic spires housing a study hall for university students.

School's out: Why are Austrian students studying in a 19th-century church?
Photo: ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP

“It's very cool to study in the Votivkirche, but it's very cold,” 19-year-old Mia Bardone, who is studying to be a teacher, said on Thursday as she read old German poetry in the light streaming through the church's stained-glass windows.

To keep its roughly 90,000 students safe from contracting Covid-19 and to adhere to social-distancing rules, like many educational institutions the University of Vienna has had to adapt its teaching methods — many lectures are now taught online. Over the summer, faculty staff came up with the idea of turning the nearby Votivkirche into a study hall.

“It's a quiet space for learning and studying inside the church, and we had this idea because it was clear that our lecture hall capacities are too small,” says Christa Schnabl, one of the university's vice-rectors.

She explains that only 40 to 50 percent of the university's space can be used when social-distancing rules are enforced.

The 19th-century Catholic church, which has been used for events like concerts in the past, was happy to help out, Schnabl said.

Image: Picture Alliance

Over the summer, portable toilets, wireless internet connections and additional electricity plugs were installed to accommodate the students. 

“Of course in the evenings when there is mass, the church isn't open for this purpose anymore,” Schnabl said.

The university is now assessing how well students use the church, but initial feedback is positive.

“I'm too distracted at home, and I keep running to the fridge,” Tobias Ofner, a 19-year-old studying to become an English and history teacher said while sitting in one of the pews, his laptop resting on his lap.

“Studying in general is a bit harder with the pandemic because most of it is online,” Ofner said in a hushed voice.

“But here, it's really great because it's quiet and that makes for a great atmosphere to study,” he said.

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

Austria's capital city Vienna has begun registration appointments for those who want to get a monkeypox vaccine. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

As of September 9th, people can make reservations for monkeypox vaccination in Vienna, authorities announced. It is possible to register for the vaccine using the health service line by calling 1450 or via the Impfservice website.

The City of Vienna has said the pre-registration is needed because all planning will be done through a central system due to a shortage of vaccines.

“Please understand that due to the vaccine shortage, we cannot offer preventive monkeypox vaccination to everyone interested. We can use the reservation platform to quickly allocate available appointments and contact interested parties as soon as there are more vaccines”, the authorities said.

After the registration, people will be contacted to book appointments on September 14th. The first available date will be September 19th.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Who should be vaccinated against monkeypox?

Vaccination of the general population is currently not recommended.

Preventive vaccination is only offered to health care workers with a very high risk of exposure to people with monkeypox (designated monkeypox departments/outpatient clinics/offices) and persons with individual risk behaviour (persons with frequently changing sexual contacts), the City of Vienna said.

The health authorities in Vienna also have a specific information sheet in English with more information on the disease.

Monkeypox is a notifiable disease caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus and which can cause a condition similar to smallpox but rarely deadly. People with immunodeficiencies, pregnant women and children are at risk of more severe symptoms.

The virus spreads from person to person through contact with infectious skin lesions, via air droplets through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other body fluids, and when having prolonged and close physical contact, e.g. through sexual intercourse.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Usually, the first symptoms show up 5 to 14 days (at the latest, 21 days) after exposure. These include fever, general exhaustion, headaches, muscle and body aches, gastrointestinal problems and frequently painfully swollen lymph nodes.

“If you have symptoms and have had contact with someone with monkeypox, you must self-isolate at once and call 1450. If you have a confirmed monkeypox infection, you need to stay in self-isolation until the last crust has fallen off”, the Austrian authorities added.

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