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

Austria's reported Covid death toll has increased by a staggering 21 percent in just one day, and more news on Wednesday.

People sit in the sun in the city park in Vienna, Austria
The sun is making an appearance today in Austria. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Ministry of Health reports 3,412 deaths on Tuesday

An extra 3,412 deaths from Covid-19 were entered into Austria’s pandemic reports on Tuesday, increasing the number of officially confirmed Covid deaths since the beginning of the pandemic by 21 percent. However, the deaths didn’t all happen over the Easter weekend.

According to the Ministry of Health, the adjustment reflected a data comparison between statistics compiled by Statistics Austria and the Epidemiological Reporting System (EMS).

The deaths that have now been reported relate to the period up to 2021. The adjustments mean the number of infected people who have died since the beginning of the pandemic has risen to 19,851 from the previous figure of 16,439. The method of reporting means anyone who had a Covid-19 infection confirmed by a laboratory and died before receiving the status “recovered/cured” in the EMS is considered to have died from Covid-19.

Austria’s opposition SPÖ party has criticised the adjustment and called it “further evidence of the complete failure of the federal government in pandemic management”, broadcaster ORF reports. 

Many more reinfections with Covid-19 since omicron wave

Reinfections with Covid-19 are becoming more common during Austria’s omicron wave. Previously it was assumed that it was only possible to be reinfected with Covid after 60 days. 

However, new studies show that with the appearance of the omicron variant, it is possible to be reinfected less than two months after recovery. According to the AGES reporting system, the risk of reinfection  in Austria is around 13 times higher than in previous waves caused by other variants.

There have already been more than four million corona cases in Austria since the beginning of the pandemic, 8.32 percent of which have so far been reinfections, the Krone newspaper reports.

Of these, 96 percent are due to the omicron variant of the corona virus, according to Health Austria (GÖG) expert Florian Bachner speaking to the Ö1 programme last week. Unvaccinated young and old people are most at risk.

Health minister already planning for autumn Covid wave

Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) has tweeted he is already preparing to combat Covid-19 in the autumn, following criticism he was too relaxed about planning for the next stage of the pandemic.

The new President of the Tyrolean Medical Association, Stefan Kastner, has also been contradicted by the head of the German Medical Association, Thomas Szekeres in Austria’s Die Presse newspaper over his views that existing quarantine rules are no currently longer needed in Austria.

However, the two medical experts were in agreement over compulsory vaccination, saying it would only be necessary if new virus variants appeared and a new vaccine were available.

End to cold progression by 2023? 

It is possible that Austria’s cold progression – which means tax brackets are not adjusted for inflation, could be abolished by 2023. Finance Minister Magnus Brunner has told journalists it is a possibility, and a working group has been  set up to look into it. 

Although getting rid of cold progression is a goal in the government’s programme, Die Presse newspaper reports Brunner is not a huge fan of the idea, having said in previous interviews that getting rid of cold progression would primarily benefit higher earners. 

Austria’s deficit is expected to rise to 3 percent this year rather than 2.3 percent as previously anticipated. The budget is affected by high energy prices and the war in Ukraine.

Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch is pictured at an exhibition named “Vorbilder, Zeitgenossen, Lehre” in Vienna. (Photo by DIETER NAGL / AFP)

Controversial Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch has died

The Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch died at a hospital in the Austrian town of Mistelbach on Monday.

He was part of a radical 1960s avant-garde movement known as the ‘Actionists’, and was known for using animal carcasses and blood in his work. Nitsch was arrested in London during the 1960s after disembowelling a dead lamb on stage.

Austria’s president Alexander van der Bellen paid tribute to him, saying his work would “live on”. There are two museums dedicated to the artist, one in Mistelbach and another in Naples, Italy.

Vienna and Lower Austria 2.4 billion euro rail improvements planned

A total of 2.4 billion euros will be made available for investments in rail infrastructure in Vienna and Lower Austria, ÖBB, the Ministry of Climate Protection and the City of Vienna announced on Tuesday. 

The main improvement is a “digitized S-Bahn”, which should speed up the frequency of trains at the main rapid-transit railway line between Floridsdorf and Meidling, the busiest rail route in Austria. Longer and more modern trains will be in service here in the future, and in larger numbers. The digital train protection system will mean the intervals between trains can be reduced from three minutes to two and a half.

A four-track expansion of the southern line between Meidling and Mödling is  also planned. The section from Meidling to Liesing is to be expanded between 2027 and 2032, and work between Liesing and Mödling will last until 2034. A new station will be built on Benyastrasse between Atzgersdorf and Hetzendorf, as well as one in Lower Austria in the Brunn Europaring area.

Styrian donkey is TikTok star

A Styrian donkey has become a TikTok star, according to broadcaster ORF. The donkey, named Eros, lives in the tiny village of St. Martin am Wöllmißberg, which has around 800 inhabitants.

It is named after the patron saint of pets and farm animals. The most popular video by Eros has been viewed over one million times.

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

Austria needs to 'wake up' in terms of neutrality, kindergarten headscarf ban overturned and more news on Friday.

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

Former foreign minister says Austria needs to examine its security policy 

The former Austrian ÖVP Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik has given a speech calling for Austria to look again at its security policy in the light of the debate over neutrality. “Austrian security policy has been dormant for almost a quarter of a century. We cannot afford to sleep for decades,” said Plassnik, according to broadcaster ORF, speaking at the Medienzentrum Ausseerland conference in Grundlsee organized by the Association of Foreign Press.

She said it was time for an update of the security policy, which is now ten years old, and to carry out a “careful, impartial and EU-compliant current risk analysis”. Plassnik suggested an “options report” should be carried out in 2022. This has been attempted before in 1998, but failed because Austria’s SPÖ party did not want to examine NATO membership at the time.

Following the decision of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, 23 EU countries now belong to the North Atlantic Defense Alliance. Only Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and Austria remain outside.

Plassnik called for debate, saying Austria was a “stowaway” in terms of security policy, in which its neighbors, the NATO members, paid the insurance policy. She added while Austrians may “carry neutrality in their hearts” it was important not to lose their heads. 

READ MORE: ‘No country is an island’: Is it time for Austria to abandon its neutrality policy?

No more headscarf ban in Austrian kindergartens

The headscarf ban in Austria’s kindergartens has been repealed. The measure will no longer be included in the new 15a agreement between the federal and state governments, broadcaster ORF reports. A law banning headscarves in Austrian schools, introduced under the previous ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government was overturned previously because it was found not to be compatible with Austria’s federal constitution. However, state laws mean in kindergartens, the ban is still in force, except in Salzburg and Tyrol. The constitutional court said in a statement that these laws were probably also unconstitutional

 A new 15a agreement is currently being negotiated between the federal and state governments, as the current regulation expires at the end of August. The details will be revealed later today (Friday). It is expected the government will announce payments of a  “kindergarten billion” distributed over the next five years. This will mean Austria’s federal states will receive money to expand their offer in the compulsory kindergarten year before school, and to give better language support. The agreement is already drawing criticism for not including enough quality criteria around group sizes or care. 

Virologist calms fears over monkey pox in Austria

The virologist Norbert Nowotny has sought to reassure people in Austria over the recent outbreaks of monkey pox which have been seen around the globe, in an interview with Puls 24

So far there have been no cases in Austria, but the virologist said it was possible there would be one or two imported cases. For people with a healthy immune system monkey pox was “no big deal” he said. However in immunocompromised people, the infection can be more severe.

Gewessler calls for Austria to adapt “circular economy”

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Green Minister for the Environment is working on a strategy for a circular economy, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing and recycling existing materials and products rather than buying new ones. She said repairs were an important factor to allow Austria to become climate-neutral by 2050 and operate sustainably. In order for long-lasting devices and repairs to be better established on the market, many other coordinated measures are needed in addition to the new repair bonus – as is the case for the entire strategy itself, which could be completed by June.

READ MORE: Repair bonus: How to get money back when electrical items break in Austria

Law changes to give more support to displaced people from Ukraine

Austria’s laws will change to give more support for people displaced from Ukraine, despite the ‘no’ votes of the FPÖ. Ukrainians have now been included in an Integration Act, giving them access to German and orientation courses. It should become easier for Ukrainians to enter the labour market, and have their educational qualifications and professional qualifications recognised, broadcaster ORF reports.

European parliament votes in favour of sanctions against Austria’s former foreign minister

The European Parliament voted by a large majority in favor of sanctions against politicians and Europeans who draw large amounts of money from Russia on Thursday, naming Austria’s  former FPÖ Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl along with Germany’s ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. 

The text also mentioned Austria’s former Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP), noting he had “recently resigned” from his office in a Russian company in contrast to politicians such as Kneissl, broadcaster ORF reports.

Payments for Russian gas can be made in roubles, according to ‘EU circles’ 

According to information from EU Commission circles, gas importers such as Austria are also allowed to open a rouble account with the Russian Gazprombank as long as they pay their bills in the agreed currencies, euros or dollars, to another account. Commission officials clarified on Thursday that this would be in line with EU sanctions. The exchange of western currencies into roubles would then have to be carried out via the second account on the Russian side.

The commission recommended states should not set up rouble accounts if possible, but this recommendation has no legal consequences, broadcaster ORF reports. 

At the end of April, Austria’s ÖVP Chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said that it was “fake news from Russian propaganda” that states such as Austria were willing to pay for the gas in roubles and insisted Austria’s energy company, OMV, would continue to pay for gas deliveries from Russia in euros. The Polish politician and former EU Council President Donald Tusk then accused Austria and Germany of having entered the “rouble zone”.

 The Russian energy company Gazprom has halted its gas  supplies to Poland and Bulgaria since they refused to pay for their gas in roubles.