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VACCINATIONS

Austria: When could Russia’s Sputnik vaccine be available?

Austria and Russia are currently in talks over the Sputnik vaccine to cover vaccine shortages, while the EU has promised to supercharge the vaccine’s approval process. When could this be available in Austria?

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. Image: AFP
Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. Image: AFP

The European Union on Thursday promised to speed up the approval process for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, just days after Austria and Russia began negotiations to unilaterally import the vaccine into the Alpine state. 

But if the vaccine is approved – either by the EU or unilaterally by Austria – when would it be available? And would it help supply? 

What is going on between Austria and Russia?

According to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz agreed in a phone call Friday to talks over the delivery and joint production of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

“The issues of countering the spread of the coronavirus infection were discussed in detail, including the possibility of supplying the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Austria, as well as establishing its joint production,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

The phone call, which the Kremlin said was initiated by Austria, came as the European Union faces criticism for a sluggish mass vaccination rollout after it was plagued by supply problems.

Where would the vaccines be made?

Part of the negotiations includes the possibility of manufacturing the vaccine in Austria. 

“Austria would definitely try to make production capacities available to suitable domestic companies for Russian or Chinese vaccines,” Kurz told “Welt am Sonntag” at the time.

Can Austria import the vaccine without EU approval?

Yes. Hungary has already started using the Russian vaccine, with several other European Union states indicating they may do the same. 

Would people agree to take the Sputnik vaccine?

Whether or not the general public would take the vaccine remains to be seen. However, a poll completed showed Austrians viewed the vaccine more positively than that from AstraZeneca. 

Support for Sputnik V in Austria is double that of AstraZeneca, according to a poll carried out this week, Austria’s Kurier newspaper reports 

On Thursday, Vienna indicated will start vaccinating over 65s with the AstraZeneca vaccine, in contravention of the recommendation of the Austrian government that the vaccine not be used for seniors. 

READ MORE: Vienna to vaccinate over 65s with AstraZeneca against Austrian recommendation

When could it become available? 

Determining the duration of the approval process is difficult at this stage, particularly at a European level. 

While the EU has promised to supercharge the process, no likely date has been given. 

However, with Hungary having approved the vaccine three weeks ago, if Austria were to unilaterally approve the vaccine, the process would be much faster. 

The expectation is that vaccines produced in Russia would be imported to be administered when the vaccine is approved, with those produced in Austria set to cover medium and longer-term needs. 

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ECONOMY

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

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The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

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There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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