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Why are infection rates in Vienna still high despite three weeks of strict lockdown?

While infection rates in Vienna are falling, they are going down far slower than those in the eastern states of Burgenland and Lower Austria, which locked down at the same time. 

A teststrasse in Vienna
ALEX HALADA/AFP

Since the lockdown in Austria’s eastern states began on 1st April, the curve of infections has reduced far less steeply in Vienna than the other eastern states of Lower Austria and Burgenland, which introduced curfews and closed retail and schools at the same time.

Despite extra steps, such as introducing an outdoor mask requirement in some areas, the number of cases in Vienna fell by just eight percent in the first two weeks of lockdown.

In contrast, cases fell by 15 per cent in Lower Austria and 24 percent in Burgenland, according to Der Standard newspaper.

In Vienna the seven day incidence, or number of infections per 100,000 people remains at 216, while in Lower Austria and Burgenland the rate is dramatically lower. Burgenland has the lowest seven-day incidence in Austria, just 112, and Lower Austria’s is the second lowest at 140.6. The average across Austria is 185. 

There are a number of theories surrounding the slower fall in cases. 

PCR tests: Greater reliability of testing in Vienna

According to Der Standard newspaper 60,000 of the 78,000 tests were carried out on Wednesday according to the PCR method, in Lower Austria it was 8,000 out of 60,000, in Burgenland 600 out of 13,000 tests.

Vienna has introduced free “gurgle” PCR tests for its citizens, which are more accurate than antigen tests, which may increase the numbers of people testing positive. 

READ MORE: Vienna to roll out free “gurgle tests” next week

People walk along the “Am Kohlmarkt” luxury shopping street in downtown Vienna during lockdown. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Bad weather

Researcher Peter Klimek from the Complexity Science Hub (CSH) says there are “unknowns” in the infection process and bad weather in Vienna over the past few weeks may have played a role.  

Language barriers and crowded housing? 

Klimek also believes Vienna is home to more people who do not speak German, or have not achieved a high level of education, which, along with crowded housing or low incomes, could make it harder for Viennese citizens to keep to the pandemic measures. 

‘Migrants more often affected by Corona’

Migration researcher Judith Kohlenberger cited OECD studies in an interview with APA which showed migrants were more often affected by Corona. She said in countries for which data are available, migrants have an approximately twice as high risk of infection. This could be associated with housing situations and income, but also language barriers. 

Intensive care units still too full

The situation in intensive care units across the eastern states remains troubling. In Burgenland 39 percent of intensive care beds are occupied by coronavirus suffers, in Lower Austria it is 36 percent, and in Vienna 43 percent, according to the AGES database.

A spokesman told Der Standard newspaper that there were 209 people in intensive care units in Vienna on Wednesday, and commented the numbers were still “clearly too high,”. 

However, migrants are not “filling up” intensive care wards, as claimed by FPO politician Gottfried Waldhäusl on Facebook.

 

Mehr als 50 Prozent der Covid-19-Intensivbetten sind aktuell mit Migranten belegt. Das sagen Gesundheitsexperten und…

Posted by Gottfried Waldhäusl on Monday, April 12, 2021

A fact check by Vienna AT found according to Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG) data, foreigners are even less likely to be in intensive care units because of Corona than Austrian citizens.

Foreigners made up 11.7 percent of the people in intensive care, but 17.1 percent of the total population.

And on a cheery note, Researcher Klimek told OE24 on Wednesday there is a  “good chance” this will be the last lockdown

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COVID-19

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.

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