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Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Friday

Find out what's going on in Austria on Friday with The Local's short roundup of today's news.

People make their way in pedal boats on the Old Danube (Alte Donnau) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
People make their way in pedal boats on the Old Danube (Alte Donnau) (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria’s ruling coalition party rejects calls for easier path to citizenship

The centre-right ÖVP party, which is in Austria’s ruling coalition along with the Greens, has rejected calls from the centre-left opposition SPÖ party to make it easier for people to become Austrian citizens, Der Standard newspaper reports.

ÖVP Integration minister Susanne Raab said the proposal, which suggested a legal right to naturalisation after six years of legal residence was “completely wrong” and would allow more than half a million people to be naturalised “ in one fell swoop”.

Austria has some of the toughest citizenship requirements in the world, meaning for example, every third person in Vienna, for example, is not allowed to vote for lack of citizenship.

READ MORE: 

Seven day incidence at 25

The seven-day incidence, or the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 25.3. All federal states are now under 50 – with Burgenland (10.9) having the lowest and Tyrol (39.6) the highest.

Austria’s coronavirus traffic light commission says the Austria is now low risk

Austria’s coronavirus traffic light commission has put the entire country into yellow-green, or low risk status. Only Tyrol and Vorarlberg remain yellow (medium-risk). Despite the openings, the numbers continue to decline almost everywhere. The development in Burgenland remains particularly favourable.

This state could even move into the green traffic light category. This would mean it was a very low risk state, with a maximum of five new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, broadcaster ORF reports.

READ MORE: What is Austria’s new five-colour Covid traffic light system?

Gyms hurting after pandemic 

Fitness studios and gyms in Austria are hurting due to the coronavirus pandemic, and have lost around 25 to 30 percent of their regular customers as a result of the lockdowns, broadcaster ORF reports.

“It will take two years to reach the pre-Corona level again,” according to WKÖ branch spokesman and fitness centre operator Christian Hörl. A wave of bankruptcies in the sector is expected when short-term work ends. The sector was booming before the pandemic, ORF notes.

Impeachment fails

Austrian opposition parties SPÖ, FPÖ, and NEOS failed to secure a majority to start an impeachment procedure against Finance Minister Blümel for late delivery of evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into the Ibiza scandal Der Standard newspaper reports.

Government parties ÖVP and Greens successfully used their majority in the National Council’s constitutional affairs committee to reject the motion, the newspaper adds.

READ MORE: Austrian minister’s home raided in casino corruption probe

Styria lagging behind with vaccinations

The governor of Styria Hermann Schützenhöfer (ÖVP) has said he would like to make vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory for kindergarten staff, although this is not allowed by Austria’s constitution, in an interview with the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. He says vaccination fatigue has set in in the state and registrations have decreased. So far 560,000 of 1.1 million eligible Styrians have received their first jab and 227,000 both jabs.

The Ministry of Health’s vaccination dashboard shows that Styria, with 50.9 percent of those who can be vaccinated, is just below the Austrian average of 51.5 percent.

Austria praised for recognising intersex citizens and fighting online hatred

Austria has been praised for including birth certificates with the gender designation “inter” and for measures to fight online hatred in the annual report of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency FRA, published on Thursday. 

In December, the National Council passed measures against “online hatred” which are intended to make it easier for victims to take action against authors of hate postings.

In July 2020, Alex Jürgen was the first person in Austria to receive a birth certificate with the gender designation “inter” having been born  in 1976 with underdeveloped male sexual organs. 

Since September 2020, in addition to “male”, “female” and “diverse” entries as “inter”, “open” and “no entry” have been possible in the civil status register, as the FRA report also notes.

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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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