MAPS: Where are Austria’s hospitals under the most pressure?

Hospitalisations have risen significantly in Austria. Here's what you need to know.

Hospitalisations are on the rise in Austria.

What is the current infection situation in Austria?

Put simply, it’s not good.

The number of infections has been steadily climbing in Austria since lockdown measures were relaxed on February 8th

The number of new coronavirus infections crossed the 3,000 mark on Friday, the first time since mid-December.

During last week 18,498 people were infected with coronavirus, an average of 2,643 every day. The seven-day incidence, or number of coronavirus infections per 100,000 population has risen from 176 to 208 within one week.

What about intensive care beds?

While infection rates have been rising since the start of February, it’s the spike in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions which is now the major cause for concern.

The situation is particularly severe in Burgenland, Vienna and Upper Austria, where 60 percent of the 373 occupied beds for coronavirus sufferers can be found.

“It looks like the number of occupied intensive care beds will be greater than in previous waves,” said Nina Brenner-Küng, spokesperson for the Vienna Health Association.

Non-ICU beds also filling up

Non-ICU beds are also filling up – with 1,395 occupied as at Monday, an increase of 94 on the previous day’s figures.

Operations in Vienna are likely to be postponed soon in order to expand ICU capacities. Public hospitals have already started to cooperate with private and religious hospitals in order to get operations done.

The following graphic shows the situation in terms of hospital beds and in ICUs in Austria. 

Statistik: Auslastungsgrad der für Corona-Patienten bereitgestellten Normal- und Intensivbetten in Österreich seit April (Stand: 16. März 2021, 00:00 CEST) | Statista
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Which states are hardest hit? 

According to official figures, ICU bed usage is highest in Burgenland, where more than two thirds are full as at March 16th. 

Vienna and Lower Austria also have a high occupancy rate, with 47.3 and 45.5 percent respectively. 

Vorarlberg has an ICU bed occupancy rate of only 3 percent. 

Why are intensive care and general hospital beds filling up?

Although it is impossible to know exactly why hospital beds are filling up, the simple reason is that infection rates are rising again.

There are two primary reasons for this: the relaxation of the strict lockdown rules on February 8th and the British variant.

Hospitalisations of all kinds have been accelerated by the spread of the British coronavirus mutation throughout Austria.

A recent study from Denmark said that not only is the British variant more contagious, but it gets people sicker than known variants.

According to the study, cases of the British variant lead to a 64 percent higher risk of hospital stays than known variants.

Tyra Grove Krause, the technical director of the Danish Health Service Center, said “our numbers point in the same direction as several other studies from the UK showing that B.1.1.7 may cause more serious disease.”

Another study from the journal Nature Medicine found that the variant had a 64 percent higher risk of death than other known variants.

Community testing tends to pick up more low risk cases, but the researchers said that if the findings were able to be generalised to other populations, the variant has the “potential to cause substantial additional mortality compared with previously circulating variants”.

Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said the increased lethality added to its faster spread meant that “this version of the virus presents a substantial challenge to healthcare systems and policy makers. “It also makes it even more important people get vaccinated when called,” he added.

Austria’s Der Standard newspaper reports that the hospitalisation rates are highest in the states where the British mutation has been present for the longest period of time.

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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.