Today in Austria: A round-up of the latest news on Friday

Find out what's going on in Austria today with The Local's short round-up of the news.

A cafe with chairs being set up outside
Will cafes open up in Austria in the spring? Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

Outdoor dining plan thrown into doubt by rise in intensive care cases

Austria’s planned further openings, including outdoor dining openings on 27th March are looking increasingly unlikely, according to Der Standard newspaper.

Coronavirus infections are rising rapidly and the number of intensive care beds occupied by corona cases has increased by 20 percent in one week.

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober has said he is “alarmed” by the latest figures the newspaper reports.

On Thursday, 2,324 new infections were registered in 24 hours. Planned opening steps in Easter will be decided on 15th March.

Vienna’s City Councillor says opening plan is “realistic”

However, Vienna Health City Councillor Peter Hacker told broadcaster ORF that opening outdoor dining areas in Vienna on March 27th was “quite realistic”.

He proposes making Vienna’s Stadtpark into a giant outdoor eating area. 

Coronavirus infections on the rise

The 7-day incidence or number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, has increased.

According to the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), it is 169 as of Thursday. The number is highest in Salzburg (223), Lower Austria (206.4) and Burgenland (205.1).

The value is still lowest in Vorarlberg (76.5) and Tyrol (114.4).

MAPS: Where are Austria’s coronavirus hotspots?

Exit controls in Carinthia

Exit controls are being introduced for the Carinthian district of Hermagor, which is currently particularly affected by the British coronavirus variant (B.1.1.7), with a seven-day incidence of 670.

From Tuesday, proof of a negative corona test taken in the previous 48 hours or coronavirus infection from the past six months will be required to leave the area.

Police will carry out controls at seven checkpoints. Schoolchildren will switch to distance learning.

Austria, Israel and Denmark plan joint vaccine production

Austria, Israel and Denmark want to join forces in vaccine production following a vaccination summit in Israel, which some European commentators saw as a signal that the EU’s cohesion in the fight against the pandemic is cracking.

READ: Austria and Denmark chided by EU ally over Israel vaccine plan

The heads of government agreed on a joint research foundation, initially endowed with 50 million euros to fund vaccine development projects, Der Standard reports.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says other states including EU members have already expressed interest in joining the cooperation. The Brilife vaccine, made in Israel, should hit the market next summer.

Curevac vaccine to be manufactured in Austria 

Biotech company Curevac will receive support from Novartis in the production of its Covid-19 vaccine.

Novartis will start manufacturing the vaccine in its Kundl plant in Austria in the second quarter, with the first doses expected to be delivered from the summer, according to German newspaper Handelsblatt.

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EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.