Testing testing, testing all summer—including children
Compulsory testing for children over the age of six in Vienna has recently been the subject of emotional debate. The currently very low case numbers may indeed make it seem questionable at a first glance why such a measure is necessary. However, the good numbers at the moment are only a snapshot. The much more contagious delta variant is reshuffling the cards—it is only a matter of time before infection curves in Austria will rise again. In fact, in many European countries they are already rising significantly.
It is therefore of the highest importance to remain vigilant, to keep a close look at the numbers and, above all, to obey the lessons learned last summer and fall, when we lost control about the infection situation in a very short period of time.
Monitor risky opening steps
We know from other countries that a new infection wave caused by the delta variant will start mainly from younger age groups. The reason is that many young people are not yet vaccinated.
Until the beginning of the Austrian summer holidays, children and adolescents in the country were regularly tested in schools. However, we cannot afford a “silly season” without testing now [holidays in Austria last nine weeks in July and August]. On the contrary: It does make a lot of sense to regularly test children over six years of age.
It must also be questioned to maintain risky opening steps, for example with regard to mask-wearing, larger events, or the opening of night gastronomy and clubs. Our goal must be to keep case numbers as low as possible by large-scale PCR testing, in order to have a good starting position in fall. Allowing the situation to escalate uncontrollably—as it already has in the UK—is not an option, especially as not even 40 percent of the Austrian population are fully immunized. We estimate that more than 80 percent would be needed to keep the virus in check without taking action.
Curb PCR testing
We now have it in our hands to avoid an escalation of the situation like last fall.
The more consistently we accompany the openings that was allowed so far with continuous PCR testing, the longer we can enjoy the openings. The Austrian “three-G rule” [German for “geimpft, genesen, getestet” = vaccinated, recovered, tested] is least intrusive, especially when it goes along with consequent hygiene and facemasks. I think we should go to replace antigen tests with PCR testing, as the former are not very informative and reliable.
Peter Klimek has been part of the expert team advising the Austrian Minister of Health on COVID-19 measures since the beginning of the pandemic.
His commentary has been published by Der Standard on July 9, 2021. Translation and minor editing by Verena Ahne.
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