Fears grow as coronavirus mutations now dominant in some parts of Austria

A coronavirus testing centre in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP
Austrian authorities are concerned coronavirus mutations - now dominant in some parts of the country - could lead to a third wave of the pandemic.

Fears are growing of a third wave of coronavirus infections in Austria as the traffic light commission reports there is evidence of a high proportion of mutated virus variants in Vienna and Burgenland.

The commission says around 43 percent of Vienna cases and 56 percent of the Burgenland cases are related to the British, South African and Brazilian mutations, which are considered more contagious and in some cases harder to control with vaccines currently available. 

EXPLAINED: How does Austria's coronavirus traffic light system work? 

At the same time, Der Standard reports Upper Austria has joined Vienna in switching to orange on the traffic light system as it reports lower numbers of infections.

Burgenland also almost met the criteria for switching to orange, but remains red due to high numbers in the Jennersdorf district.

'Massive increase'

German virologist Melanie Brinkmann Helmholtz from the Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig warned of a “massive increase” in the number of cases due to the new mutations in Der Spiegel this week, and Chancellor Merkel also spoke of mutations as a “very real danger” in the German Bundestag on Thursday. 

Brinkmann was particularly pessimistic about the virus mutations, saying it would create a “whole new pandemic” on top of the previous one, as the virus would spread faster than immunisations could catch up. 

Too slow

Austrian researcher Stefan Thurner agrees, and tells Der Standard nothing has been learned in the last year. He says Austria is still reacting too slowly to developments in the pandemic, giving Tyrol as an example.

It took many days for the Austrian government to take measures to prevent the South African mutation B.1.351 of the coronavirus, and Tyrol has now become the European hot spot of the mutation in the pandemic. 

READ MORE: Austria imposes statewide isolation order in Tyrol due to coronavirus variant 

University of Vienna microbiologist Michael Wagner agrees, saying loosening the lockdown at the same time variants of the virus appear is “taking a great risk”.

The question is whether measures such as compulsory FFP2 mask wearing, more testing and border controls will be sufficient to compensate for the more contagious forms of the virus. 

However, simulation researcher Niki Popper says he has no fears that there will be extreme case increases in Austria in the short term. 


 


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