Delta variant: How worried should people be in Austria?

As cases of the Delta variant continue to rise in Austria, Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) is preparing to meet with the coronavirus task force to determine the next steps.

Delta variant: How worried should people be in Austria?
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has warned people not to become complacent amid the threat of the Delta variant. Photo: JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP

In the UK, cases of the Delta variant are rising significantly, with reports that the country is now recording more than 40,000 cases per day – the highest rate since January.

However, deaths remain low compared to previous waves of Covid-19, which is mostly being attributed to the country’s vaccination roll out with more than 60 per cent of people aged over 18 fully vaccinated.

In the USA, cases of the Delta variant are growing in the midwestern and southern states – regions with some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

But overall cases remain low compared to the peak in January and around 55 per cent of all Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Austria’s vaccination rate is at almost 50 per cent but cases are now rising again. What does this mean and should people be worried?

What is happening in Austria?

The Austrian government coronavirus task force will meet on Thursday 15th July to discuss the rising case numbers and the Delta variant. 

ORF reports that Kurz wants to consider the impact of returning travellers and night time gastronomy on the epidemiological situation in Austria.

Der Standard is reporting that a tightening of measures or the abandonment of previously announced further easing could be announced following the task force meeting.

MAPS: Where are Austria’s new coronavirus hotspots?

Although the number of Covid-19 cases in Austria is still low compared to other countries, cases are rising again, leading to concerns within the government. 

Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) yesterday wrote on Twitter that 90 per cent of all new infections in Austria can now be traced to the Delta variant.

Mückstein described the increase as a “cause for concern” that could lead to an increase in hospitalisations. He said short term countermeasures were needed while calling on people in Austria to get vaccinated.

On Wednesday 14th July, Kurz and Mückstein specifically appealed to the younger generation to get vaccinated as they are the most at-risk group for the new strain of the virus.

Kurz has also been advocating for personal responsibility instead of state measures during a trip to the USA this week.

The Austrian government currently plans to end the mask mandate on 22nd July, with exceptions including public transport, supermarkets, hospitals and care homes. 

What are the experts saying?

Der Standard reports that Thomas Szekeres, President of the Medical Association, is calling for the use of FFP2 masks indoors to be compulsory and describes them as a “harmless measure” that prevents infection.

Szekeres is a member of the government coronavirus task force and has expressed concerns about weaknesses in the current 3-G (tested, vaccinated or recovered) strategy in Austria.

The Wiener Zeitung reports that Thomas Czypionka, a physician and health economist at the Institute for Higher Studies, says it is too early to assess the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccination against the Delta variant.

The report adds that some fully vaccinated people in Israel are still being infected with the virus, and in Austria 314 cases have been recorded in people that are fully vaccinated, including 16 deaths.

The Local spoke to Fabian Valka, Researcher Mathematical Modeling and Machine Learning at vektorraum, about the relaxation of measures earlier this month who said the lifting of the mask mandate in Austria had the potential to increase the number of cases.

Valka, a co-author of the Covid-19 Model for Austria for Imperial College London, said: “Personally, I think that we’ll probably need to reintroduce many currently lifted interventions in Austria to stop the next wave of cases, hospitalisations, and deaths.”

READ MORE: Austria to introduce on-the-spot fines for breaching 3G rule

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Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were ‘unconstitutional’

Austria's constitutional court found that banning unvaccinated people from going to hairdressers or cultural institutions was unconstitutional

Austrian court rules certain bans for unvaccinated were 'unconstitutional'

The Constitutional Court (VfGH) has found a regulation which stopped people from going to hairdressers in the second lockdown for the unvaccinated was unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal.

However, the Court of Justice did confirm it was admissible to distinguish between people with and without 2G evidence (proof they had recovered from or been vaccinated against Covid-19), meaning the lockdown for the unvaccinated was itself legal.

READ ALSO: Four options: These are Austria’s autumn Covid lockdown plans

As there were exceptions to the lockdown, allowing people without vaccinations to leave their homes to “cover the necessary basic needs of daily life”, this should have included trips to the hairdressers as part of these “basic needs” on a long term, the court ruled.

It clarified that the rules were at first supposed to last for 10 days, but as the lockdown got extended several times, lasting a total of 11 weeks, the “basic needs” evolved and should have included hairdresser visits.

According to the Constitutional Court, it was also illegal for the government to ban unvaccinated people from entering cultural institutions in autumn 2021.

In this case, the reason was that people were still allowed to go to church and other places of religion, which the court found was “in violation of equality”.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

The court found the ban on entering sports facilities ordered by the Minister of Health during the first lockdown in March and April 2020 was also unlawful, as there was not sufficient justification, broadcaster ORF reported.

Strict Covid-19 measures

Austria was one of the countries which imposed several lockdown periods during the pandemic, as The Local reported. While some were aimed at the entire population, more recently, only those who didn’t get vaccinated against Covid-19 were prevented from going out of their homes without a justification (such as grocery shopping or emergencies).

The country had also imposed a Covid-19 vaccination mandate, but that was scrapped after new variants of the virus evolved into less severe cases of the disease, the government said.

Currently, there are few coronavirus restrictions in place. You can check out all the measures across Austria here.