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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Almost nine in ten Austrians believe masks are here to stay

Will you continue to wear a mask if and when the pandemic ends?

Coronavirus: Almost nine in ten Austrians believe masks are here to stay
Photo: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP

Almost nine in ten Austrians (87 percent) said they expected mask wearing to remain common in the country even after the end of the pandemic, a new study has found. 

This is a 29 percent increase from when the study was last conducted, in May and June of 2020. 

The study, completed by the IMAS Institute, showed that the vast majority of Austrians (75 percent) believed that the pandemic would change everyday lives permanently. 

The study also found that few Austrians expect a swift economic recovery should the country emerge from the crisis.

Overall, 32 percent said a recovery would take place ini 2021, while 37 percent felt it would be 2022. 12 percent of Austrians believe the economy would not recover. 

Unsurprisingly, elderly respondents were most concerned about the health impacts of the pandemic, while younger respondents feared negative economic outcomes. 

Fear of pathogens and germs the new normal

Nine in ten said they believed people would become more sensitive to anyone who was visibly sick or coughing by the end of the pandemic.

Eight out of ten felt that the impacts would be so significant that traditional forms of greetings such as hugs and handshakes would be replaced permanently by other forms of greetings. 

Almost nine in ten (87 percent) felt that working from home would continue to be prevalent, while other aspects of the pandemic such as using video conferences would also remain common. 

 

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COVID-19

Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.

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