Less than a week since Austria’s ‘Freedom Day’ saw the relaxation of most Covid measures, case numbers are skyrocketing, and experts and politicians have argued for some restrictions to come back. The Health Ministry, however, does not want to introduce new restrictions.
For the last two days, Austria has had record Covid numbers, posting 47,795 new cases on Wednesday, 9, and again 49,432 new cases on Thursday. This Friday, the federal government announced 49,323 new infections in 24 hours.
Though the numbers in hospitals and intensive care units are not as dramatic, doctors have already issued warnings about the overworked and tired staff.
Medical Association Vice Harald Mayer told Austria’s Krone Zeitung newspaper, “we are running out of beds, some of the staff are exhausted and unnerved or infected, quit in rows or are looking for transfers”.
The rising numbers come just about a week after Austria had its “Freedom Day”, with most restrictions being lifted in the country. This week, the country also announced that the legal requirement to have the Covid-19 vaccine would not be implemented as planned, following a report by experts that it was “not proportionate” due to the milder Omicron strain of the virus.
Criticism of the relaxations
Since March 5th, the “G” rules were removed in most of Austria, and clubs and venues reopened not only for vaccinated and recovered but for the unvaccinated as well. The mask mandate was also removed in most areas, except for “essential” places such as supermarkets and public transport.
Vienna did not follow suit, and the capital kept the 2G rule (vaccinated or recovered) for gastronomy and an FFP2 mask mandate for all indoor areas.
The city’s Mayor Michael Ludwig was also one of the first to criticise reopening steps, both when he announced Vienna would not adopt the federal government’s reopening plans and when the country reported record infection numbers.
Die Infektionszahlen sind auf absolutem Rekordniveau. Das Aufheben der Schutzmaßnahmen war ein Fehler. Genau vor dieser Entwicklung habe ich immer gewarnt! Wir werden den konsequenten Weg in @Stadt_Wien weiter beschreiten. /1 #CoronaVirusAT #COVID19at
— Michael Ludwig (@BgmLudwig) March 9, 2022
On Twitter, the SPÖ politician raised his concerns and called on the Health Ministry to “seriously deal with the high number of cases”.
Ludwig pointed out that the country has record-level infection rates, saying removing restrictive measures was a mistake, and Vienna would keep following its “consistent path”.
Reversal path and preventive measures
Several specialists and politicians have called for some of the measures to be reinstated.
Austria’s Corona Commission has recommended implementing some “preventive measures” to halt the rising numbers. However, the commission stopped short of mentioning “reintroduction” of measures and, so far, a new lockdown has not been suggested by experts.
Medical attorney Sigrid Pilz this Friday, 11, said in the Ö1 “Morning Journal”: “I don’t understand how you can’t see a need for action in the current situation.” She also criticised the suspension of the vaccination mandate, saying the move “creates uncertainty”.
Sigrid Pilz advocates the introduction of a mask requirement in all indoor areas, including schools, work from home schemes where possible, and ventilation systems in public buildings.
Molecular biologist Ulrich Elling told Krone that masks were the “simplest and most effective measure for controlling infection dynamics” but had been “abandoned” by the government.
“Masks should be compulsory”.
Epidemiologist Eva Schernhammer warned that with such a high number of infections, the health system would very well be brought to its limits.
Health Ministry to stay on course
The Health Ministry, however, has decided not to turn on the reopening steps.
“We must be cautious not to lose acceptance and understanding among the population. A tightening of the corona measures a few days after the extensive opening would not be possible to present to people”, he said, according to Die Presse.
The Ministry said that not only the new number of cases should be considered, but also the proportion of symptomatic patients and the burden on hospitals.
49,323 new infections were recorded from Thursday to Friday, according to the health commission. This is above the average of the past seven days of 37,628.
27 more deaths related to the coronavirus in 24 hours have been reported. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have already been 15,163 deaths.
A total of 2,751 infected people were treated in the hospitals on Thursday. In addition, 176 patients were in intensive care units.