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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Every weekday, The Local brings you an English-language summary of the news you need to know in Austria.

Mountains Austria
Catch up on the latest headlines from Austria today. Photo: Midas Hofstra/Unsplash

Will Austria’s Omicron soon start to flatten?

The number of new cases is still rising in Austria, with the seven-day incidence rate topping 2,000 for the first time ever yesterday.

The WHO noted this week that globally, the Covid incidence rate is rising less rapidly and is starting to even out. 

Austria doesn’t appear to be at this point quite yet, and the Omicron variant began spreading here slightly later than in some other European countries. The chart below from Our World in Date shows the case rate in Austria since the start of the year.

Covid booster gives 99% protection against death from Covid, Austrian study shows

The study is in line with international data, and was based on analysis by Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG).

Out of approximately 5,600 deaths since the first completed series of vaccinations in February 2021, most deaths (around 4,500) were people who were not fully vaccinated. A total of 95 people died of Covid after receiving three vaccine doses, most of them aged over 75 and therefore in the age category most vulnerable to the disease.

The study showed similar effectiveness of three vaccine doses in all age groups. Among over-75s, the researchers recorded 0.238 deaths per 100,000 observation days among people who were triple vaccinated, compared to 22.56 deaths per 100,000 observation days in the unvaccinated group. This means the vaccine effectiveness rate is 99 percent.

Students protest about school leaving exam requirements

Rallies are planned by student groups today in Vienna and in some other cities across the country, to protest the requirement to carry out Austria’s school leaving exam (Matura) in person.

In 2021 and 2020, it was not compulsory to carry out the usual oral element of the exam, but that has been reintroduced for this year.

The protests are not organised by the national student union, but by a group called ‘Action by Critical Students’ (AKS) affiliated with the centre-left SPÖ party.

More deaths but fewer injuries on Austria’s mountains last year

The data comes from the Austrian Board of Trustees for Alpine Safety (ÖKAS), which recorded 272 deaths in mountain accidents last year, a rise of 11 from the previous year, although total injuries fell by almost 3,000 to reach 4,961.

The activity associated with the most fatalities in 2021 was hiking/mountaineering with 111 fatalities, followed by  mountain biking with 16 associated deaths.

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TODAY IN AUSTRIA

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Traffic jams and packed trains warning, concerns over gas, no subway for Graz and more news on Wednesday.

Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday

Packed trains and traffic jams expected in coming days

Trains and roads in Austria are expected to be packed over the coming days as people head off on their holidays. The ÖBB train website warns people should make a reservation on trains before travelling, and says it will provide up to 10,000 additional seats on Ascension Day, Pentecost and Corpus Christi.

The number of train travellers in Austria has increased sharply due to the waning of the pandemic, the Klima ticket and the high cost of petrol, broadcaster ORF reports. 

According to the Austrian motorist club ÖAMTC, drivers can expect “heavy traffic” over the long weekend. 

Graz decides against subway

The city of Graz has finally decided against building a subway, but has instead decided to build two new S-Bahns instead and a tunnel through the city centre, it was revealed on Tuesday. Experts spent a year examining five concepts before coming up with the decision. The subway was the most expensive option, and would have cost more than 3.5 billion euros, whereas the two S-Bahn tunnel projects are significantly cheaper, costing  2 .2 billion euros, broadcaster ORF reports. 

Experts weigh in over mask requirement

As The Local reported on Tuesday, masks will no longer be required in Austria’s public transport and essential retail from the beginning of June. As usual, Vienna will keep stricter rules in place than the rest of the country, and require masks on public transport. However, experts meeting in Vienna from the research platform “Covid-19 Future Operations” on Tuesday called for the government to be prepared for the “worst case scenario” in the autumn and winter. 

Some experts were critical of the relaxed rules in place from June, with virologist Dorothea van Laer saying she would have kept the mask requirement in pharmacies and in essential shops in order to be able to protect vulnerable groups, broadcaster ORF reports.

READ MORE: 

Concerns over emergency plans for gas

Businesses are raising concerns that no emergency plans are in place in the event Russia stops delivering gas to Austria. Austria is one of the most dependent countries on Russian gas in the EU. Der Standard reports Voestalpine, a large steel company based in Linz, has had only “sporadic” talks with the government about the possible crisis. Katharina Koßdorff, Managing Director of the Food Industry Association says there are no “concrete emergency plans” for this scenario, adding the Austrian food industry is almost 100 percent reliant on Russian gas. 

Austria has started to buy gas for its strategic reserve. On Monday the government spent almost one billion euros on 7.7 terawatt hours (TWh) of gas. Leonore Gewessler’s climate ministry, which is responsible for energy, said it was unclear where the gas comes from, as there are no proofs of origin on the gas market. It can be assumed that Russian gas makes up part of what has been purchased, according to a spokesman for Gewessler (Greens).

READ MORE: REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply

Van der Bellen speaks out over citizenship and Austria’s military

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen has told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper he believes in making it easier to become naturalized as an Austrian. In the interview he said the hurdles for obtaining citizenship were currently “too high”. He has also given an interview to Der Standard in which he says Austria should spend more on its army and increase the number of diplomats, though he draws the line at joining NATO, arguing Austria does not need to be so “bellicose”.

Van der Bellen has gathered further support for his aim to be re-elected in the autumn from the ÖVP government team. Although the People’s Party does not officially recommend his election, State Secretary Florian Tursky (ÖVP)  has said he would support his fellow Tyrolean. However, Van der Bellen will face competition from the head of Austria’s Beer Party Dominik Wlazny, who also goes by the name of his alter ego, Marco Pogo, as well as candidates from the anti-vaccination MFG party and the far right FPÖ. 

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