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Explained: Austria’s mass testing plan ‘to end coronavirus lockdown in time for Christmas’

Who will be tested and will it be compulsory? Here’s what you need to know.

Explained: Austria’s mass testing plan ‘to end coronavirus lockdown in time for Christmas’
Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Austria has unveiled a mass testing scheme to put an end to the country’s lockdown in time for the Christmas holidays. 

Austria has indicated it will follow its neighbour Slovakia in unveiling a nationwide ‘mass testing’ regime. The goal of the scheme is to allow the country to emerge from lockdown before Christmas. 

“We know it's something close to many people's hearts to be able to celebrate in a half decent way with at least a small number of their loved ones,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. 

In Slovakia, two-thirds of the population were tested two weeks ago, with just over one percent testing positive.

Kurz told public broadcaster ORF that “we have decided here in Austria… to take a similar step”.

“We want to deploy mass tests at the end of the lockdown in order to enable a safe re-opening in schools and other areas,” Kurz said, adding that in the first instance testing would be focused on groups such as teachers.

Austrian media reports that medical workers would also be one of the targeted groups for testing. 

 

How many people will be tested? 

Kurz indicated that he was unsure about how widespread the testing regime would be – or if it would be as comprehensive as that in Slovakia. 

Testing 70 percent of the populace would mean testing more than six million people. 

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Sunday it was as yet unclear as to whether the entire population would be tested, or if specific risk groups would be targeted. 

What kind of tests will be used? 

The programme in Slovakia has involved the use of antigen tests and it appears Austria is set to follow suit. 

They give far quicker results than PCR tests, which involve nasal swabs that have to be sent to a laboratory, but they are less reliable.

Kurz said that the advent of antigen tests meant “we finally have the possibility of buying millions of tests”, although he admitted that rolling out a large testing programme would be a  “logistical challenge”.

Will it be compulsory? 

In Slovakia, anyone who refused to be tested were subject to a strict curfew and were not allowed to work. 

Anschober said on Sunday that the scheme “must be voluntary”, reported Kronen Zeitung

Therefore, nobody – even those in particular groups – would be forced to be tested against their will. 

It is however unclear if people in particular professions would be allowed to return to work if they refused a test. 

 

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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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