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

Every weekday, The Local brings you an English-language summary of the news you need to know in Austria.

Medical staff in PPE
We'll find out more about how Austria plans to handle the Omicron wave tomorrow. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP

Most of Austria’s Covid patients in ICUs are unvaccinated

Figures from the Health Ministry show that only 21.3 percent of patients currently receiving intensive care treatment for Covid-19 had a valid vaccination certificate, down from 26.7 percent in late November (when the total number of intensive care patients was higher). On other hospital wards, 33.8 percent of patients had a valid vaccine certificate.

The reasons fully vaccinated people still end up in intensive care include the fact that immunity offered by the vaccine declines over time, which is why the booster dose is so important, and that some people with underlying conditions get a lower level of protection from vaccination so can still be vulnerable.

Of Austria’s general population, 71 percent of people are fully vaccinated, so the unvaccinated are considerably over-represented among those getting most seriously ill from Covid.

How will Austria handle the Omicron wave?

Austria’s Crisis Commission Gecko met on Tuesday and tomorrow will meet with leaders of the national and regional governments. We don’t have any updates on how the talks went yesterday, but the key item on the agenda was whether Austria’s current measures are enough to deal with the wave of the Omicron variant as the incidence rate again starts to trend upwards.

One likely possibility is that quarantine time will be reduced to enable businesses and especially the healthcare sector to cope with staff absences due to sickness and exposure. But it’s also possible that authorities will again decide to increase restrictions to slow down the wave. 

Epidemiologist Gerald Gartlehner has been calling for the plans for mandatory vaccination from February this year to be reconsidered, because the Omicron wave is likely to cause so many infections that it will ultimately build up the level of immunity in the population. In comments on Austrian TV, he also outlined the downsides of the wave and allowing high numbers of infections: “many severe cases, overworked intensive care units, overworked hospitals and many deaths”.

Cooler weather from today

After a very unseasonally warm start to the new year, temperatures are set to drop by up to 20C in some places over the next few days. That will bring most places to the usual levels for the season of around 0C, as a cold front moves in over the country.

This will bring precipitation on Wednesday, falling as snow in Carinthia and eastern Tyrol and as rain or sleet in many other parts of Austria.

Salzburg plans more quarantine accommodation for tourists

At the moment, Tyrol and Salzburg have the highest incidence rates of Covid, with more than 1,000 new cases per 100,000 people reported each week in several areas. Part of the rise is linked to winter ski tourism, and in Salzburg authorities are looking for new quarantine accommodation, ORF reports.

Travellers who test positive might currently either be told to return home by car (while avoiding all personal contacts), to remain in their hotel and cover costs themselves or through travel insurance, or to stay in regional quarantine accommodation run by the Red Cross and paid for by the Austrian state. Currently, 16 of 76 beds in this venue are occupied, with the region planning to set up a new site to cope with rising infections.

Public holiday tomorrow

Don’t forget that Thursday January 6th is a public holiday. This means most employees will be off work, and a large number of shops and supermarkets will be closed across Austria.

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For members


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

Traffic jams and packed trains warning, concerns over gas, no subway for Graz and more news on Wednesday.

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

Packed trains and traffic jams expected in coming days

Trains and roads in Austria are expected to be packed over the coming days as people head off on their holidays. The ÖBB train website warns people should make a reservation on trains before travelling, and says it will provide up to 10,000 additional seats on Ascension Day, Pentecost and Corpus Christi.

The number of train travellers in Austria has increased sharply due to the waning of the pandemic, the Klima ticket and the high cost of petrol, broadcaster ORF reports. 

According to the Austrian motorist club ÖAMTC, drivers can expect “heavy traffic” over the long weekend. 


Graz decides against subway

The city of Graz has finally decided against building a subway, but has instead decided to build two new S-Bahns instead and a tunnel through the city centre, it was revealed on Tuesday. Experts spent a year examining five concepts before coming up with the decision. The subway was the most expensive option, and would have cost more than 3.5 billion euros, whereas the two S-Bahn tunnel projects are significantly cheaper, costing  2 .2 billion euros, broadcaster ORF reports. 

Experts weigh in over mask requirement

As The Local reported on Tuesday, masks will no longer be required in Austria’s public transport and essential retail from the beginning of June. As usual, Vienna will keep stricter rules in place than the rest of the country, and require masks on public transport. However, experts meeting in Vienna from the research platform “Covid-19 Future Operations” on Tuesday called for the government to be prepared for the “worst case scenario” in the autumn and winter. 

Some experts were critical of the relaxed rules in place from June, with virologist Dorothea van Laer saying she would have kept the mask requirement in pharmacies and in essential shops in order to be able to protect vulnerable groups, broadcaster ORF reports.


Concerns over emergency plans for gas

Businesses are raising concerns that no emergency plans are in place in the event Russia stops delivering gas to Austria. Austria is one of the most dependent countries on Russian gas in the EU. Der Standard reports Voestalpine, a large steel company based in Linz, has had only “sporadic” talks with the government about the possible crisis. Katharina Koßdorff, Managing Director of the Food Industry Association says there are no “concrete emergency plans” for this scenario, adding the Austrian food industry is almost 100 percent reliant on Russian gas. 

Austria has started to buy gas for its strategic reserve. On Monday the government spent almost one billion euros on 7.7 terawatt hours (TWh) of gas. Leonore Gewessler’s climate ministry, which is responsible for energy, said it was unclear where the gas comes from, as there are no proofs of origin on the gas market. It can be assumed that Russian gas makes up part of what has been purchased, according to a spokesman for Gewessler (Greens).

READ MORE: REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply

Van der Bellen speaks out over citizenship and Austria’s military

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen has told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper he believes in making it easier to become naturalized as an Austrian. In the interview he said the hurdles for obtaining citizenship were currently “too high”. He has also given an interview to Der Standard in which he says Austria should spend more on its army and increase the number of diplomats, though he draws the line at joining NATO, arguing Austria does not need to be so “bellicose”.

Van der Bellen has gathered further support for his aim to be re-elected in the autumn from the ÖVP government team. Although the People’s Party does not officially recommend his election, State Secretary Florian Tursky (ÖVP)  has said he would support his fellow Tyrolean. However, Van der Bellen will face competition from the head of Austria’s Beer Party Dominik Wlazny, who also goes by the name of his alter ego, Marco Pogo, as well as candidates from the anti-vaccination MFG party and the far right FPÖ. 

READ ALSO: Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?