‘Seven percent of Austrians infected with coronavirus’ since pandemic began

Seven percent of Austria's residents have come down with coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, showing the country is far away from herd immunity.

'Seven percent of Austrians infected with coronavirus' since pandemic began
A woman shops for FFP2 masks in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

A new study by an Institute for Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) shows that seven per cent of people in Austria have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

The results of the study were presented by the Viennese demographers in the journal “PLOS One” together with Vienna’s Technical University (TU).

The study took into account the age of the population, the general death rate in relation to age, the number of deaths associated with Covid-19 and Covid-19 deaths in relation to the documented numbers of infected people, or case mortality. 

Using mathematical modelling, the researchers had also calculated how many of the actual cases had been detected using testing, the Austrian Academy of Sciences said.

UPDATE: What do delivery delays mean for Austria's Covid-19 vaccination programme? 

The analysis by demographers Miguel Sánchez-Romero and Vanessa Di Lego and colleagues showed that in most countries, only around 60 percent of cases were recognised by test strategies.

This value also applies to Austria, as Sánchez-Romero explained.

“Different test procedures, asymptomatic persons and the limited availability of tests on a large scale reduce the chances of really detecting all cases,” he said.

The scientists used statistical models to estimate how many people had been infected with Covid 19, including unreported cases.

In its work, the team focused on the USA –  and found even in the states of New York and New Jersey, which had an estimated 20 percent infection rate, herd immunity was still a long way off. 

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, American immunologist Dr Fauci, said as many as 85 percent of people must be vaccinated or immunised to achieve herd immunity from the coronavirus, ORF reports. Due to the mutations of the virus, it is difficult to establish at what percentage herd immunity is achieved.

The demographic team points out that their estimates for various countries are closely aligned with the results of seroprevalence studies, in which the number of people already infected is sampled based on antibodies in the blood and then extrapolated to the total population.

However, such examinations are time-consuming and expensive. Whether vaccinating the population can reduce transmission of the virus should become clearer in February. 


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Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.