Why coronavirus infections are again on the rise in Austria

After decreasing for several months, coronavirus infection numbers are again “increasing rapidly” in Austria. Here’s why.

Why coronavirus infections are again on the rise in Austria
A coronavirus testing centre in Vienna. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

In mid November, new coronavirus infection numbers hit a peak in Austria, with the seven-day incidence rate climbing to 587 per 100,000 residents – just days before the country’s second lockdown was imposed. 

Since then – and despite one further period of relaxation before another lockdown – infection numbers have been in gradual decline, hovering just above 100 per 100,000 for the first two weeks of February. 

In recent days however, the infection rate has again begun to climb. As at February 22nd, it is now at 134 per 100,000 – with further increased predicted. 

Coronavirus infection numbers are ‘increasing rapidly’ in Austria – why?

Peter Klimek, from the Complexity Science Research Hub in Vienna, told Austria’s Kurier newspaper that new infections were “increasing rapidly” across Austria. 

Klimek said there were three primary reasons for the increase: the relaxation of the lockdown, increased testing and the spread of the coronavirus variants. 

From February 8th, Austria relaxed a number of coronavirus lockdown measures, including winding back the 24-hour stay-at-home order and allowing ‘body hugging services’ such as hairdressers and tattoo parlours to open again. 

An assessment of the official figures shows an almost immediate spike in case numbers – followed by a gradual increase in the seven-day incidence figure. 

EXPLAINED: What are Austria's new coronavirus lockdown rules? 

The lockdown relaxation on February 8th was accompanied by mandatory testing requirements to visit hairdressers and tattoo parlours, while widespread testing was also implemented at schools. 

While increased testing is seen as an essential step in identifying virus clusters and containing its spread, it also leads to increases in official infection numbers. 

Finally, the prevalence of the British and South African mutations – each of which is believed to be more infectious than known variants – is expected to have contributed to the increase. 

In some states, the British variant is already the most common form of the virus – which is an indication as to its higher infectiousness. 

In Burgenland, the British variant now represents 75 percent of all newly detected infections, while in Vienna and Lower Austria it is around 50 percent. 

“We have seen in recent weeks that the pandemic is not under control with this variant. This means that these cases double every two to four weeks right now,” Klimek said. 

Klimek said that the spread of the variant could lead to stricter lockdown measures by easter. 

“If a third wave came, we would not be able to withstand a wave as big as in autumn without it reaching the limits of capacity.”

Member comments

  1. The reason for the increase is people are tired of the lockdown and are not obeying the rules. I have seen people in my local village from as far away as Graz and Vienna, visiting during the school holidays, so they can go skiing. People are socialising at home as they are just tired of the isolation, and who could blame them. The EU has stuffed up the vaccine programme and there appears to be no hope of a change any time soon.

  2. The EU’s vaccine response is verging on being criminally irresponsible. The UK has vaccinated very nearly 18,000,000 people. How many in Austria and across the EU? This is not because we, here in Austria cannot, but because there is no Vaccine available, why?

    One could blame the French for insisting there Vaccines be used in quantity only to find out they were useless leading to scrappage and a black hole in Vaccine numbers. What say you President Macron?

    That all said the main responsibility lay with the EU Commission who’s arrogance, lack of accountability and sheer incompetence is frankly breathtaking. When this is all over EU members need to take a very serious look at EU management.

    Meanwhile the dying continues and will continue for a considerable time yet as EU citizens are offered as so much cannon fodder by a still utterly ineffectual and arrogant Commission. Percentage of EU Citizens vaccinated 3.5% UK 27%?

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Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.