After making it through the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic relatively unscathed, Austria was among the hardest hit countries in the world by the pandemic in October and November – both for infection rates and fatalities.
In a press conference discussing his government’s decision to wind back lockdown measures – as well as in subsequent media interviews – the Chancellor appeared to suggest the reason Austria was hard hit was due to Austrians and Austrian residents “returning from their countries of origin” after summer.
“We had very, very low numbers of infections in the summer after the lockdown and then we brought infections back into the country through travellers returning and especially through people who spent the summer in their countries of origin,” Kurz said.
In particular, Kurz attributed a “large part of (the infection rates) to (returnees from) the Western Balkans and Croatia”.
Kurz also suggested that a major reason for the new extensive Christmas quarantine rules was due to the risk posed by people heading abroad and importing coronavirus infections.
After the statement, Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler criticised Kurz, said the statement was “insensitive” and “hurtful”.
“I very much regret that many people experienced this as hurtful. I am thinking especially of the many women and men who have been with us in nursing homes and hospitals for many months – as also in the intensive care units,” said Kogler.
He said many of them had biographical roots in the “regions that were addressed one-sidedly yesterday,”
Absolute masterclass response from TV anchor Armin Wolf: “Very sorry to interrupt you Herr Chancellor but that’s not true”
“Can I finish?”
“Not if you keep saying things that aren’t correct” pic.twitter.com/TRaPaivant
— James Jackson (@derJamesJackson) December 3, 2020
On Friday, Kurz hit back – although he stopped short of apologising for his comments, saying that he had “many friends in the Balkans”.
“Everyone who knows me knows how closely I am connected to the Western Balkans” Kurz said.
“I have many friends with roots there, I have a friendly relationship with the heads of government there.”