Today in Austria: A round-up of the latest news on Thursday

Find out what's going on in Austria today with The Local's short round-up of the news.

A healthcare worker receives an injection with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

Vaccination in Tyrol 

Vaccination will start today in the Schwaz district of Tyrol, which has received extra vaccines from the EU due to the spread of the South African virus variant, in the area. 

Around 48,500 people have registered for a vaccination from Biontech / Pfizer,  around 76 percent of those eligible for vaccination, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. 

Hospital numbers expected to rise

The Ministry of Health in Austria is expecting hospital numbers to rise, and says infection rates will increase from 2,400 a day to around 2,900 in the coming week. By March 17th the daily number could be 3,200, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports.

In Vienna, a third of beds are expected to be occupied by Covid patients. This could also happen in Burgenland and Lower Austria, though intensive care beds are unlikely to be exceeded in any federal state by March 24th.

The experts say the vaccination progress within the age group of 65 to 79-year-olds is  too low. Only two to three percent in this age group are vaccinated.

Gurgle PCR test proposed for schools 

Experts say new gurgle PCR tests for schools could allow school children and parents to get back to normal.  The idea is supported by Vienna’s City Councilor for Education Christoph Wiederkehr and the simulation expert Niki Popper from the TU University in Vienna, according to broadcaster ORF.

Children are lonely in the pandemic

On the anniversary of the corona pandemic, a survey by  The Sora Institute has shown two out of three children feel lonely.

More than half of the parents surveyed say their child’s learning has suffered. Both children and parents feel more stressed since the pandemic began, according to Der Standard newspaper. 

‘Made in Austria’ masks come from China

According to Wiener Zeitung, Hygiene Austria, the mask manufacturer accused of selling masks from China as an Austrian company, is now threatened with several lawsuits over its “Made in Austria” claims.

The news comes as, according to Die Presse, the head of the supervisory board of the fiber manufacturer Lenzing, Peter Edelmann claims the company was co-founded not to earn money, but to make an important contribution to the protection of the population.

Latest corona statistics

The 7-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 187.9 (as of 2 p.m. yesterday) according to the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES). 

The number is highest in Salzburg (251.4), Vienna (228.3) and Burgenland (226.5). The value is still lowest in Vorarlberg (74.8) and Tyrol (104.3).

Around 608, 045 people in Austria have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine (around 7 percent of the population). 252.097 people have received both doses.

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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.