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COVID-19

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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ECONOMY

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

Austria’s lucrative winter season has already been hit by pandemic restrictions for the past two years. But this year there is also record inflation, staff shortages and an energy crisis to deal with.

From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria's winter season

The winter season in Austria is a big driver of the country’s economy and has been hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions for the past two winters.

But this year the industry faces an even bigger crisis – a combination of rising inflation, concerns over energy supplies, staff shortages and the pandemic (because it’s not over yet).

We took a closer look to find out how these issues could impact the industry and what we could expect from this year’s winter season in Austria.

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Inflation

Winter sports is a big guzzler of energy to operate ski lifts, apres ski venues and snow making machines. 

This means the industry is in a vulnerable position as energy prices rise, with some resort operators already confirming they will have to pass on some costs to customers.

Johann Roth, Managing Director at Präbichl in Styria, said that energy costs at the resort have tripled and admitted he is concerned about the coming winter season.

Roth told the Kronen Zeitung: “Of course we will have to increase the ticket prices, and to an extent that has never been seen in recent years.”

READ MORE: Cost of living: Why are restaurants getting more expensive in Austria?

At Planai ski resort in Schladming, Styria, Director Georg Bliem said they aim to keep the day ticket price under €70, but has also set up an energy task force to find cost-saving measures for this year. 

Suggestions for Planai include narrower slopes, reduced snowmaking capabilities, shorter cable car operating times and even a delayed start to the season.

Electricity costs at Planaibahn (the resort’s ski lift and gondola operator) were already at €3 million before the current energy crisis, according to the Kronen Zeitung.

Then there are hospitality businesses and hotels at ski resorts that are also being hit by rising costs.

As a result, the Kurier reports that room prices in overnight accommodation could increase by a further 15 percent in winter, and many people will no longer be able to afford skiing holidays.

Heating may be an issue in winter as the energy crisis looms (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Energy

Rising prices are just one element of the energy crisis as there are fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming winter season – mostly due to the war in Ukraine.

In March, Austria activated the early warning system – which is the first level of a three-step emergency plan – for the country’s gas supply. If it reaches step three (emergency level), energy control measures will be put in place across the country.

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How this would impact ski resorts is unknown, but at the emergency level, households, essential industries and infrastructure would be prioritised for energy.

So far, there is no indication that step two (alert level) will be activated and the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory recently confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity was 60 percent full

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve.

However, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler already appealed to businesses and households in July to start saving energy where possible.

Staff shortages

Ever since Austria (and Europe) started opening up after Covid-19 lockdowns, the hospitality and tourism industries have been struggling to find staff.

In fact, shortly before the start of the summer season in Austria, there were 30,000 open job vacancies in the tourism sector. And the Wiener Zeitung recently reported on how restaurants in Vienna are struggling to keep up with customer demand due to staff shortages. 

READ NEXT: ‘We need immigration’: Austrian minister insists foreign workers are the only solution

The issue is even being discussed in parliament and it has already been made easier for seasonal workers in Austria to access residency through changes to the Red-White-Red card. 

Now, there are expectations of similar staff shortages for the winter season, which could cause further stress for ski resort operators.

Covid-19

Back in July, it was reported that the federal government was working on a Covid-19 contingency plan to get the country through another autumn and winter.

It envisages four scenarios – numbered from the best to the worst case. In the best case scenario, Austrians can live free of any pandemic rules. In the second best scenario, the situation will remain as it is (find out more about Austria’s latest Covid-19 rules here).

In scenario three, if new variants lead to more severe illness, the mask requirement will be expanded and more testing will be carried out.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The Covid-19 measures for the start of the Austrian school year

There could even be night-time curfews, entry tests and restrictions on private meetings. In addition, major events could be stopped from taking place and nightclubs closed.

Scenario four, the worst case scenario, would mean vaccination no longer offered protection and hospitals became overwhelmed, leading to severe restrictions on people’s social lives.

From what we’ve seen over the past two winters, scenarios three and four would likely impact winter sports operations. But to what degree would depend on the severity of the situation.

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