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

Medical staff in PPE
We'll find out more about how Austria plans to handle the Omicron wave tomorrow. Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP
Every weekday, The Local brings you an English-language summary of the news you need to know in Austria.

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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