Austrian health authorities have flagged December 7th as a possible end date for the ongoing coronavirus lockdown, provided infection rates continue to fall.
In a press conference on Monday, November 23rd, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober indicated that lockdown measures would be relaxed gradually, with schools likely to return to normal.
Anschober said the transition out of lockdown would be supported by mass testing, contact tracing and specific measures targeted at people over 65.
“(To come out of lockdown) [t]he hygiene and safety concept for afterwards becomes very important. There will be accompanying measures,” Anschober said.
“This will include a few key measures: special protection for people over 65, increased use of the Stop Corona app, contact tracing must work well regardless of the number of cases, mass tests.”
Anschober warned however that “after lockdown, everything will not be as it was before”.
Special protection for vulnerable people
The Health Minister said his department was working on a specific plan to protect the most vulnerable in Austrian society, including people over the age of 65.
Austria’s vaccination plan will see the most vulnerable get first access to the vaccine, most likely in the final week of December or the first week of January.
A cornerstone of protecting the elderly is to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission in aged care facilities.
More than 260 have died in November, with 2,000 people infected in the past three weeks.
All nursing home staff are to be tested under the plan, reports Kurier.
The plan will be released in full in the coming days.
Contact tracing has ben a valuable tool in the arsenals of countries which have had the most success in curbing the spread of the virus.
While Austria was one of the first countries to launch a contact tracing app, this has as yet been of little use in the fight against the virus.
The Stopp Corona app was rolled out in late March, but was plagued with a range of issues and has only been downloaded by one million of Austria’s nine million residents as at the start of November 2020.
Anschober indicated that the government would boost staff numbers to allow the contact tracing system to function more effectively.
Central to the plan is an extensive mass-testing scheme, which will kick off on December 5th.
The scheme kicks off in two phases.
Saturday, December 5th and Sunday, December 6th, all state and federal teachers and kindergarten supervisors will be tested.
On December 7th and 8th, 40,000 police officers will be tested across the country.
According to Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung, “a broad series of tests is planned for the entire population before Christmas”.
Participation in the scheme is voluntary.
The testing will take place at around 100 testing stations which will be set up across the country.
The tests for teachers will be carried out by the Austrian Education Ministry through each state department, while the police testing will be conducted by each state’s police department.
Medical staff will be trained by Austrian health authorities and the Austrian military.