Is Austria relaxing coronavirus measures too quickly? 

A cafe in Vienna setting out chairs at the Naschmarkt
Austrian authorities have come under fire for their plan to relax lockdown measures in March, particularly with only a small fraction of the population vaccinated. Is Austria emerging from lockdown too quickly?

Austria has seen a rise in coronavirus cases since relaxing its lockdown earlier in the month.

Virologists are concerned that the more infectious British variant of coronavirus is becoming widespread in eastern Austria, prompting fears of a third wave.

Explained: Everything you need to know about Austria’s plan to ease lockdown

Nonetheless, the Austrian government has decided to further loosen the lockdown, starting in Vorarlberg, the only state in Austria with a seven-day incidence of coronavirus below 100 (70).

Vorarlberg will be allowed to open restaurants from 15th March, provided infection rates remain low. 

Nationally, hotels and restaurants could open after Easter, depending on infection rates.

The German health expert and politician Karl Lauterbach has pointed out the rise in cases and the spread of the British B117 variant of the coronavirus across Eastern Austria.

On Tuesday, he wrote on Twitter that Austria was “loosening into the B117 wave”, and predicted many would “pay for that with their lives”.

He also predicted Austria would go back into lockdown. 

Huge increase in tests

On Twitter, many users responded to Lauterbach’s comments by posting graphics which show Austria’s enormous increase in testing.

However, experts and virologists have also warned against further openings in Austria, with the corona traffic light commission even saying they would recommend further closures if incidences rise above 200 per 100,000 people.

The commission believes only 10 to 15 percent of the increase in incidence cases can be traced back to increased testing. 

Are more people dying?

Despite the slow rate of vaccination in Austria, the number of new corona infections in old people’s homes fell by almost 90% between December and February.

People living in old people’s and nursing homes in Austria are now almost completely vaccinated.

The number of deaths overall has also fallen, from a seven-day average of 36 on 8th February to 24 on 2nd March.

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober has said previously the falling death rate is due to the vaccination campaign. 

Are enough people being vaccinated to open up? 

Vaccination is still slow. As of 3rd March, the corona dashboard is showing around 5.6% of the eligible population have received a vaccine.

However Chancellor Kurz has promised the speed of vaccination will rapidly increase in the coming months, comparing it to a “ketchup bottle” effect. 

A ketchup bottle effect is a situation or event where not much happens for a long time, and then a lot happens at once.

He says in March 30,000 vaccines per day could be administered  and from April more than 45,000 people per day. 

Do restaurants and cafe owners want to re-open?

Austria plans to start opening up outside dining in combination with a test requirement after Easter.  However, Chamber of Commerce gastronomy chairman Mario Pulker told the Standard newspaper for the majority of restaurants this is not a “viable option”.

Many businesses have no outdoor seating and April weather is not reliable. It could also mean restaurateurs will have to start paying rents which are currently suspended.

What is happening to jobs?

At the weekend it was calculated that the openings in retail three weeks ago brought around 120,000 people out of unemployment and short-time work back into full employment, according to Labour Minister Martin Kocher. 

Many cafes and restaurants are also staying afloat due to government support. Recent figures show there were almost half the number of  bankruptcies in the catering sector in 2020 as there were 2019. Experts predict there will be a wave of bankruptcies in catering once government support is withdrawn. 

Jobs in Austria

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