Austria hits record daily number of Covid cases

Less than a week after the country relaxed most Covid restrictions, 47,795 new cases were recorded in Austria on Wednesday.

A health worker prepares a coronavirus antigen rapid test at the new coronavirus test center in the Orangery of the Schoenbrunn Palace. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)
A health worker prepares a coronavirus antigen rapid test at the coronavirus test center in the Orangery of the Schönbrunn Palace. Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP.

Austria has posted a new record number of coronavirus infections, totalling 47,795 cases in 24 hours, according to data from the country’s Health Ministry. 

This comes on the same day that the alpine country announced its decision to scrap a mandatory vaccination law that would have imposed fines starting at €600 to people who have not vaccinated against Covid-19.

The record number also comes in less than a week after Austria lifted most Covid restrictions.

READ MORE: Covid-19: Austria to remove most restrictions from March 5th

On March 5th, nightclubs reopened for vaccinated people throughout Austria. Most of the country also removed requirements to show proof of vaccination or recovery (2G) and even testing (3g rule) to enter bars and restaurants.

Vienna, however, kept the 2G rule for gastronomy and the FFP2 mask mandate indoors. 

The capital’s Mayor Michael Ludwig was one of the people who pointed out that the record number of new cases came in tandem with the reopening.

“The number of infections is at an absolute record level. Removing the protections was a mistake. I have always warned about this development! We will continue to follow the consistent path in Vienna”, the SPÖ mayor tweeted

Corona in numbers

The Health Ministry recorded 47,795 cases in 24 hours, with 2,764 people in hospitals with the virus (four more than the day before) and 182 in intensive care units.

Since the pandemic began, 15,113 people have died with corona, 42 of them in the last 24 hours. 

Austria is one of the countries with the lowest vaccination rates, with 69.47 per cent of its population fully vaccinated and 75.79 per cent partially vaccinated. In the last seven days, 17.39 per cent fewer doses were given than in the same period before. 

UPDATED: Austria to scrap mandatory Covid vaccinations

The vaccination mandate law came into force early in February, but the rates have not risen significantly since then.

There were no sanctions against the non-vaccinated, though, that would’ve come in mid-March before being suspended by the federal government. 

As life reopens for everyone, with few or no restrictions or health measures, and the mandate falls, politicians and specialists warn of possible repercussions with rising infections, and the possible arrival of new variants in autumn.

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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.