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AUSTRIA

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

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

Person getting vaccinated
Spring-like weather is forecast for Austria this weekend. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Extra doses of vaccine to come to Austria

Austria will receive 198,815 additional doses of Biontech Pfizer vaccine doses, after the EU purchased an extra 10 million for member states, Der Standard newspaper reports. Austria had hoped the EU would give it even more extra doses to make up for AstraZeneca delivery problems which means it may fall behind in vaccination this year. 

No Austria-wide lockdown for now, says Kurz

The lockdown in the eastern states of Austria will stay limited to these regions for the time being, Chancellor Kurz  said on Thursday.  He said the country’s intensive care units, showed big differences between regions. States should help each other in the admission of intensive care patients, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. 

Record deficit in Austria 

The pandemic has driven the deficit in Austria  to a record level of 8.9 percent of GDP in 2020. The €33.2 billion missing from the state budget, is the highest deficit since records began in 1954. The national debt ratio also rose in 2020 by 13.4 percent to  83.9 percent of economic output, it reports. Preliminary results from Statistics Austria show government spending rose by 12.6% or €24.4 billion compared to 2019 to a total of €217.4 billion, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports. 

Unemployment fell in March

Unemployment fell significantly in March, but is still at a high level. At the end of March, 457,817 people were registered as unemployed or in AMS training, 51,106 fewer than last February and 104,705 fewer than in March 2020. The unemployment rate at the end of March was 9.4%, a decrease of 1.3 percentage points compared to February and 2.9 percentage points compared to March 2020, the Wiener Zietung newspaper reports 

E-moped sharing scheme comes to Vienna

A new e-moped sharing has been available in Vienna since Thursday. The Go Sharing company starts renting its e-mopeds. Initially the fleet will comprise 200 vehicles, by the end of the year 500 of the green-painted mopeds should be on the road, broadcaster ORF reports. 

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HEALTH

Italy to step up test-and-trace and sequencing as concern grows about Delta virus variant

The Italian health ministry on Friday told local authorities to increase their coronavirus variant sequencing and tracing efforts, as new data confirmed that the Delta strain is spreading in Italy.

Italy to step up test-and-trace and sequencing as concern grows about Delta virus variant
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The ministry sent out the instruction in a circular after the Higher Health Institute (ISS) released new figures on Friday showing that the number of infections in Italy caused by the Delta and Kappa variants have increased by 16.8 percent in June.

“From our epidemiological surveillance, a rapidly evolving picture emerges that confirms that also in our country, as in the rest of Europe, the Delta variant of the virus is becoming prevalent,” said Anna Teresa Palamara, director of ISS’s infectious diseases department.

READ ALSO: Italian health experts warn about Delta variant as vaccine progress slows

According to ISS data published on Friday, the SARS-CoV-2 variant prevalent in Italy was found to be the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), responsible for 74.9 of cases. This is now also the most prevalent globally.

Cases associated with Kappa and Delta variants (B.1.617.1/2) “are few overall in January to June”, the ISS report added. But it stated that the frequency and spread of these reports has “rapidly” increased across the country.

The new ISS figure  still lower than those from independent analysis of data from the virus-variant tracking database Gisaid, which estimated on Thursday that Delta now accounts for as much as 32 percent of recently confirmed new cases.

Several regions have already reported clusters of the Delta variant, though the amount of test result sequencing and analysis carried out by local health authorities in Italy varies and is often low.

Each region currently volunteers to do a certain number genetic sequencing of positive swabs, which means that Italy has less data available about the spread of variants than countries where sequencing is more widespread and systematic, such as the UK or Denmark.

The region of Puglia on Friday confirmed it would begin sending 60 test results per week for further analysis following the health ministry’s instruction.

Italian authorities had largely dismissed the risks posed by Delta in Italy until recently, describing its presence as “rare” in the country in the official data monitoring report released on June 11th.

Health officials had said at the end of May that they believed vaccinations would be enough to mitigate the risks.

But Italy’s government is now re-evaluating its approach following criticism of its response so far in a report published on Thursday by independent health watchdog GIMBE.

“A ‘wait-and-see’ strategy on managing the Delta variant is unacceptable,” wrote GIMBE head Dr. Nino Cartabellotta.

MAP: Where is the Delta variant spreading in Italy?

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The report described Italy’s current levels of full vaccination coverage as “worrying” considering “the lower effectiveness of a single dose against this variant “.

At the moment, just over a quarter of the Italian population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, compared to 46% in the United Kingdom.

The report pointed out that some 2.5 million people aged over 60 in Italy have not yet received the first dose of a vaccine.

The foundation urged the government to “properly implement” measures recommended by the ECDC in its report published earlier this week: “enhance sequencing and contact tracing, implement screening strategies for those arriving from abroad, and accelerate the administration of the second dose in over 60s”.

Cartabellotta said: “You can’t control the Covid pandemic only with vaccines, masks and distancing. Today the Delta variant requires tracing and sequencing”.

Amid rising concern about the impact of the variant, which is thought to increase the risk of hospitalisation, Italian health authorities on Monday imposed new travel restrictions on arrivals from the UK – almost a month after other EU countries including France and Germany did the same.

Despite concerns about the spread of Delta, Italian health authorities on Friday also confirmed that all regions of Italy would be allowed to ease the health measures further from Monday, June 28th, as the number of infections recorded remained low this week.

READ ALSO: Italy to drop outdoor mask-wearing rule from June 28th

The last region still classed as a ‘yellow’ zone, Valle d’Aosta, will join the rest of the country in the low-risk ‘white’ tier, meaning most rules can be relaxed.

“With the decree I just signed, all of Italy will be ‘white’ starting from Monday. It is an encouraging result, but we still need caution and prudence,” Speranza
wrote on Facebook.

Referring to the spread of more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, the minister added: “the battle has not yet been won.”

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