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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Can Santa enter Austria on Christmas Eve?

Of advanced age and with obvious weight issues, Santa might appear to be in a risk group. But the WHO have clarified that he is in fact immune to Covid-19.

Coronavirus: Can Santa enter Austria on Christmas Eve?
Santa on a street car in Vienna. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

The pandemic need not deter Santa from travelling the world and handing out gifts this coming Christmas because he is immune to Covid-19, a World Health Organization official said Monday.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, WHO's lead on the crisis Maria Van Kerkhove told a press briefing she understood many children were worried how the virus could impact Father Christmas.

“I understand the concern for Santa, because he is of older age,” she said, responding to a journalist's question about whether the gift-bearing figure, known for his grey whiskers and big belly, might not be at heightened risk from Covid.

“I can tell you that Santa Claus is immune to this virus,” said Van Kerkhove, who herself has two young sons.

“We had a brief chat with him and he is doing very well and Mrs Claus is doing very well, and they are very busy right now,” she said.

She also said WHO had heard from a number of world leaders, who said they had relaxed the quarantine measures that are hampering global travel and would allow Santa and his flying reindeer to enter their airspace.

“So he will be able to travel in and out of the airspace and be able to deliver presents to children,” she said.

But while seeming eager to help spread the holiday cheer, Van Kerkhove also stuck to the WHO's role of advising how best to stay safe and halt transmission of the virus that has killed more than 1.6 million people in the past year.

“I think it is very important that all the children of the world understand that physical distancing by Santa Claus and also of the children themselves must be strictly enforced,” she said.

Kids should listen to their parents and “make sure that they go to bed early on Christmas Eve,” she said, stressing that “Santa will be able to travel around the world to deliver presents.”

 

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HEALTH

More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

The Federal Government unveiled a package looking to attract more than 75,000 new workers to the nursing and care professions - including people from abroad.

More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

Austria has unveiled a €1 billion reform package to improve working conditions for health sector professionals.

In a press release this Thursday, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said that the package would include higher salaries for nurses.

“There will be massive measures to make the nursing profession more attractive”, the minister said.

For 2022 and 2023, the government will offer a total of €520 million as a monthly salary bonus for the professionals, Rauch said. This should last initially for at least two years until other measures start taking effect.

Training for the career will also receive investments, according to the minister. There will be a federal training subsidy of at least €600 per month.

In addition, a nursing scholarship for those switching (or switching back) to the nursing profession of up to €1,400 will be funded by the Austrian Employment Agency AMS.

READ ALSO: Everything foreigners need to know about the Austrian healthcare system

As a measure to protect workers and keep them from turning to other professions, the government explained that all those older than 43 years old will receive an extra week of paid holidays. Additionally, all employees in inpatient long-term care will receive two hours of time credit per night shift.

​​Among the more than 20 measures that the Ministry will detail in the coming days are steps to increase help for those in need of care and of relatives that care for their families, according to the statements given in the press release.

Caring relatives will receive a family bonus of €1,500 per year if they provide most of the care at home and are themselves insured or co-insured. The employment in 24-hour care is also to be “made more attractive” – but details are still pending.

Bringing in international help

The government is also turning outside of Austria and the European Union to attract more professionals.

In the future, nurses who complete vocational training will receive “significantly more” points in the process to access the so-called Rot Weiss Rot (RWR) residence permit. They will also increase the points given for older professionals, facilitating the entry of nurses from 40 to 50 years old.

RWR applicants need to reach a certain threshold of points based on criteria including age and education to get the permit.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

The recognition of training acquired abroad will be significantly simplified, accelerated and debureaucratised, the government promises. And nurses will be able to work as nursing assistants until the formal recognition of their foreign qualifications is completed.

Long-needed reform

“People in care work have long deserved these improvements”, Rauch said.

The government expects the package to create more than 75,000 new workers to fill the thousands of open positions in the sector by 2030.

Green Party leader Sigrid Maurer stated that the measures will be an essential step towards gender equality. “After all, it is mainly women who work in the care professions, especially taking care of relatives at home”.

READ ALSO: Austria’s former health minister becomes best-selling author

The government announcement comes as several protests are scheduled to take place throughout Austria this Thursday, which is also Tag der Pflege (Day of Care).

Health and care sector professionals are taking to the streets to demand better hours and pay and protest against staff shortage, overload, and burn-out.

“We have been calling for better conditions and better pay for years. Thousands of beds are now empty because we don’t have enough staff. In Styria, about 3,000 of a total of 13,000 beds in the nursing sector are currently closed,” Beatrix Eiletz, head of the works council of Styrian Volkshilfe told the daily Der Standard.

READ ALSO: How Covid absences are disrupting Austrian hospitals, schools and transport

It is not uncommon that nurses will quit their jobs and move to completely different professions, thereby increasing the gap, the report added.

The problem is an old one in Austria – but it has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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