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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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.