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

Austrian authorities are concerned coronavirus mutations - now dominant in some parts of the country - could lead to a third wave of the pandemic.

Fears grow as coronavirus mutations now dominant in some parts of Austria
A coronavirus testing centre in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

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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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.