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COVID-19

Covid-19: Austria among highest hospitalisation rates in Europe

As the country reopens and lifts restrictions, not only the number of new infections is rising, but hospitalisation rates as well

Gargle tests in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP
Gargle tests in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Austria is currently the sixth country with the highest hospitalisation rates, reporting 332 Covid-19 patients in hospitals per million people.

Information from Our World in Data puts Austria only behind Lithuania (646), Latvia (566), Slovakia (477), Estonia (473), and Bulgaria (460), though these countries have last updated their numbers on March 6th. 

The alpine country is followed by France, with a rate of 310 patients per million residents, Hungary (307), Romania (307), and Denmark (263).

In less than two months, data shows Austria’s hospitalisation rates have almost tripled. 

Neighbouring countries such as the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Italy have fared much better, with hospitalisation rates of 207, 194, and 149, respectively.

READ MORE: Could Austria’s mandatory Covid-19 vaccination return in autumn?

Reopening steps

This comes as the country lifted most Covid-19 restrictions almost two weeks ago. 

Since March 5th, Austrians don’t need to show a Covid pass with proof of vaccination, recovery, or negative test in most establishments. The mask mandate has also mostly fallen throughout the country. Except for the capital Vienna, that is, where Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) has kept the 2G rule for gastronomy and general mask requirements for indoor areas.

As the country reached record Covid case numbers, many politicians in the federal government defended the reopening steps by mentioning that the wide-spread omicron variant was “milder” than its predecessors. 

READ MORE: Record Covid case numbers: How close is Austria to a new lockdown?

Responding to criticism, the Health 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. 

Top three

More than 300,000 people were infected with the Covid-19 in the past week in Austria – giving the Alpine state one of the highest infection rates in Europe. 

According to data from Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), only Iceland and Liechtenstein had a higher incidence of infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a comparison of 46 European countries. 

However, some European countries have low rates of testing in comparison to Austria, broadcaster ORF noted. 

Yesterday, however, the federal government announced residents in Austria will be entitled to five PCR and five antigen tests per month, in a departure from the unlimited free tests that are currently available. 

Additionally, from March 21st, close contacts of a positive case will no longer have to quarantine completely and will be able to go to work or shopping while wearing a mask, but not to restaurants or events.

Useful vocabulary

Infektionszahlen – infection numbers

Spitzenfeld – leading group

CoVFälle – Covid cases

Nachbarstaaten – neighboring states

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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. 

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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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