Austria to roll out nationwide rapid testing in schools

Austria has approved a plan to use rapid coronavirus tests in schools across the country. The plan will involve mobile ‘test teams’ who visit schools where infections are suspected.

Austria to roll out nationwide rapid testing in schools
A mobile test bus operating a similar scheme in Portugal. Photo: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

Under the plan, mobile test teams will be dispensed to schools across the country in the case of suspected coronavirus infections, reports ORF

Using rapid tests, people with symptoms can be tested for the virus with a result available in a few minutes. 

After the success of a pilot project in Lower Austria, Vienna, Tyrol and Carinthia, the scheme will be rolled out nationwide from December. 

EXPLAINED: How will Vienna's shipping container rapid testing plan work? 

Education Minister Heinz Faßmann on Wednesday that the goal of the scheme was to identify infections early and prevent disruptions in schools. 

“Suspected coronavirus cases should disrupt everyday school life as little as possible. If children or teachers wait a long time for a test or an assessment, this is anything but beneficial for the classroom. The negative effects are significant,” he said. 

Mobile test teams have been active in Vienna since September, where 5,900 people were tested, 3.5 percent of whom were positive. 

How does it work? 

Teachers or students who are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus can contact the testing teams, who are dispatched immediately. 

The team, which includes several “medical specialists” will conduct a rapid antigen test on the suspected case. The test results are then available in minutes. 

If the test is negative, the lesson can continue and no further tests or quarantines are necessary. 

If the test is positive, the local health authorities are informed and a process for quarantine measures is set in motion, with local health authorities deciding how to proceed. 

Students under 14 will need parental consent to be tested. 

“All in all, with these rapid tests we are relieving the children, parents, and school, because waiting has been extremely uncomfortable up to now,” said Faßmann. 


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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.