“We need personal responsibility, for people to take precautions concerning others”, Austria’s Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) told journalists this Wednesday.
The minister presented a concept known as “living with Covid”, learning to deal with the pandemic without resorting to severe restrictions on daily lives. People would have to take personal responsibility to, for example, wear masks in crowds and when close to vulnerable people.
Still, he added that he would not rule out pandemic restrictions, such as mandatory masks if there is another increase in numbers – particularly of people in hospitals.
“I don’t see lockdowns or curfews for now”, Rauch said. He added that no new measures should be taken in the near future “because we do not see any dramatic change in hospitals”.
The minister added it was time to get into a mode to “live with the virus” instead of a crisis mode. In the past two years, Rauch stated, mental illnesses and suicide rates have increased, so “health shouldn’t be defined only as an absence of Covid”.
This Wednesday, June 22nd, Austria reported 10,898 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. There were 653 people hospitalised with Covid-19 and 50 in intensive care units.
The increasing numbers are seen with no surprise by the government.
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The Austrian Covid commission’s forecast had stated that the increase was part of a trend observed for the past two weeks and expected to continue.
At the same time, the number of people with valid vaccinations is dropping, as many fail to attend booster appointments. As a result, only 62.4 percent of the Austrian population has a valid green pass, according to the government.
Why are the Covid-19 numbers rising?
Austria’s corona commission said that the omicron subvariant BA.4/BA.5 is a decisive factor in the increase, as it is considered more infectious – and is expected to become dominant in the coming week.
“Additionally, an increased proportion of travel-associated cases has been observed in recent weeks”, the commission said. It added that “an influence of recent major events cannot be ruled out either”, a likely reference to the war in Ukraine and a large influx of refugees from the country.
Dorothee von Laer, a Med-Uni Innsbruck virologist, mentioned other factors that likely contributed to the increasing numbers, including the fact that people have stopped wearing masks after the requirement was dropped in most of Austria.
She also cited that “recent rainy days” led to more people being indoors. “I believe there are many different factors that come together”.
Should I get a fourth Covid vaccination?
There is currently no consensus on when to get a fourth Covid shot, also known as a “second booster”. Austria’s National Vaccination Committee (NIG) has recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, but only for those deemed at risk of serious illness.
The NIG identifies risk groups as people over 80 and those between the ages of 65 and 79 with a weakened immune system or existing health conditions.
The committee is considering lowering the recommended age to 65, even for people with no other health conditions. An official recommendation should be announced in the coming days, the Health Minister said.