No Omicron cases in Vienna hospitals so far

There are currently no patients with the highly contagious Omicron variant in hospital in the Austrian capital, a positive sign amid expectations that overall case numbers will rise rapidly, according to Peter Hacker, City Councillor for Public Health, Social Affairs and Sport for Vienna.

People wait in line in front of a vaccination station that is installed at a BILLA Plus (REWE Group) supermarket in Vienna
People wait in line in front of a vaccination station that is installed at a BILLA Plus supermarket in Vienna where the Omicron Covid-19 strain has been the dominant variant since December 26th. ALEX HALADA / AFP

“So far, not a single person with Omicron has been admitted to hospital in Vienna,” Hacker told Austrian newspaper Standard

“This is the case for standard and intensive care wards and is quite remarkable,” he added.

There is a delay before seriously ill patients end up in hospital after becoming infected, but the data for the initial phase of the Omicron wave seems to provide some grounds for optimism.

As of Thursday, a total of 1,870 people had tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron variant in the capital to date, 540 of those cases were from the last two days. Omicron has been the dominant strain since St Stephen’s Day on December 26th.

Hacker is expecting to see record case numbers in January. He did not want to give specific figures, but in response to whether the capital could see 10,000 new infections per day, he said: “it will be like that”.

Inpatients are unvaccinated

Hacker also referenced statistics, which showed that for Vienna “more unvaccinated people were ending up in hospital [with Covid] than ever before”, thereby demonstrating that vaccination worked. 

Around 41 percent of the total population has had a booster vaccination so far and 71 percent have an active vaccination certificate.

From November 8th to 14th, there were 166 unvaccinated inpatients and 39 fully vaccinated inpatients with Covid-19 in non-intensive-care hospital wards. This compares with December 20th to 26th when there were 179 inpatients who hadn’t had a jab and just 19 who were fully vaccinated.

Cut quarantine period
Nonetheless, with case numbers expected to rise substantially in the country, the number of people off sick with Covid-19 or in quarantine could still become a problem even if these don’t translate into high numbers of hospital admissions.

Hacker is therefore calling for the quarantine period to be shortened to five days or a week and for quarantine rules to be relaxed.

Italy, for example, recently announced that it would scrap quarantine rules for vaccinated and recently recovered people who were in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. 

The Austrian Minister of Health was currently looking into relaxing the quarantine rules for triple-vaccinated people. This was announced by Austria’s Chief Medical Officer Katharina Reich on Thursday on Austrian news show Zeit im Bild 1.

A relaxation of the rules would have “to be consistent in a step-by-step approach” and was “quite conceivable”, said Reich, who heads up the Committee of the National Covid Crisis Coordination (Gecko) with Major General Rudolf Striedinger.

The regulations were tightened in mid-December with the arrival of the new variant and the quarantine period was cut again on December 19th. Since then, people who have been in contact with a person infected with Omicron only need to self-isolate for ten days again (down from 14 days under the tighter rules) and can take a PCR test to end the quarantine early after five days if they test negative. 

They are considered Category 1 (K1) contacts.

This is not the case with the previous Covid-19 variants – contacts of these are considered Category 2 (K2) and do not have to self-isolate. They are just asked to reduce their social contacts and be extra alert to symptoms.



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Vienna forced to dim street lighting and cancel some Christmas illuminations

Christmas illuminations in Vienna will also be scaled back this year as part of the city's energy saving measures.

Vienna forced to dim street lighting and cancel some Christmas illuminations

Vienna, a city known for its Christmas markets and its New Year concert, is cutting back on public lighting in the face of soaring energy prices.

“There will be no Christmas illuminations this year on the Ring,” the famous boulevard that encircles the centre of the Austrian capital, city spokeswoman Roberta Kraft told AFP.

READ MORE: Five of the biggest challenges facing Austria right now

And the lights at the Christmas market in the square in front of the city hall would only be switched on at night and not at dusk, as in previous years, “which is to say about an hour later, on average, every day”, she said.

The city authorities said they had not calculated exactly how much they would save, but the move comes after energy prices have skyrocketed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its response to Western sanctions.

Last Friday, the Austrian Energy Agency announced that its electricity price index for September rose by more than 256 percent year-on-year.

READ ALSO: Inflation at 9.2% in July: How to beat rising prices in Austria

Austria, with its population of nine million, is very dependent on tourism and its end-of-year celebrations are a major motor of the economy.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down much international travel, more than four million people visited Vienna’s famous Christmas markets in 2019.

In 2021, around 30 of Vienna’s shopping streets were lit up for seven hours a day, from November 12 until early January.