Mainstream Austrian media under fire for running Covid-19 conspiracy ads

Two of Austria's most widely read newspapers were sharply criticised Friday for running a full-page advert containing misleading claims by opponents of measures taken to combat the coronavirus.

Mainstream Austrian media under fire for running Covid-19 conspiracy ads
A coronavirus skeptic rally in Vienna. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

The advert, printed in the Kurier and Oesterreich newspapers, included claims that mask-wearing is “damaging to health” and that the “overwhelming majority of scientists warn of serious side effects” from vaccines based on mRNA technology.

Both claims in fact run contrary to the majority of scientific opinion.

The editor-in-chief of Kurier, Martina Salomon, conceded in a column printed alongside the advert that it contained “theories decisively rejected by the majority of the scientific community”, but justified its publication on grounds of “freedom of expression”.

READ MORE: Thousands take part in coronavirus sceptic protests across Austria

She also argued that suppressing such opinions would “only encourage abstruse conspiracy theories”, despite the advert itself warning of the dangers of a “centralised state being used by international actors”.

Many were not convinced by Salomon's reasoning and accused Kurier and Oesterreich of irresponsible behaviour.

The editor-in-chief of the Heute tabloid said it had rejected the ad.

The editor of the Falter weekly Florian Klenk said on Twitter: “So you can get this fake news into Kurier as an advert. Unprecedented.”

Professor Leonhard Dobusch from Innsbruck University, whose work has included research on the nature of information exchange online, tweeted that “the irony is that while Facebook and co. are making it harder to take out such ads, the previously proud print media offer them an alternative route for their disinformation”.

Austria is currently in its third coronavirus lockdown, which is scheduled to end on January 24.

Recent restrictions have brought down daily infection rates from their peak of almost 10,000 in mid-November when the statistical average stood at 471 per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period.

But they remain above the government's target of a seven-day average of below 100 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Austria has seen a growing number of protests organised against coronavirus restrictions.

While the protests are still only drawing relatively small numbers, the authorities are concerned about the presence of “extremist” elements and this week new government guidelines were issued for monitoring them.

Three such protests planned for this weekend and a larger rally planned for January 16 in the capital Vienna have been banned, police spokeswoman Barbara Gass told AFP.

Those behind the events had previously organised others where illegal activity had taken place and the protests would not be conducive to the public good, she said.

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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.