Corona situation in Austria out of control after fair weather policy




Reluctance, government strife and the need to serve particular interests have caused the number of new infections to rise threateningly. Now a new lockdown threatens



How devastating the epidemic situation is in Austria is shown by the highly idiosyncratic crisis communication on Friday. Federal Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein, the ÖVP governors of the two federal states most affected by Covid-19, Salzburg and Upper Austria, gave press conferences almost simultaneously. Once again an action that can be apostrophized as “one-time”, provided the word still makes sense in connection with the coronavirus.



Actually, everyone involved should be clear: Anyone who wants to inform or warn the population and call on them to cooperate in the fight against the virus should do so with clear and easily understandable statements. If, on the other hand, the individual heads of state and the two coalition partners of the federal government consider it necessary to first make their point of view known and at the same time make contradicting statements, then it becomes clear that crisis management only plays a minor role.



The main goal of politicians at the moment seems to be to save face. The reality of drastically increasing numbers of infections, which have led to a nationwide seven-day incidence of 775, but which is already 1,200 in Upper Austria and Salzburg, no longer allow a cheap spin. None of the politicians can claim to have acted proactively and correctly. The previous protective measures must therefore be regarded as having failed.

The allegedly long-defeated pandemic



A political professional in the media democracy must of course never admit this. That is why the “step-by-step plan” is constantly being invoked. The government and the federal states had been able to agree on this, but only because it was very vague and operated with extended time windows. The basic idea behind the step-by-step plan was that the early indicators, such as the number of reproductions and the seven-day incidence of new infections, were no longer used alone, but that they were supplemented by the criterion of hospital occupancy. So if the infections increase, but at the same time there are still enough intensive care beds available, nothing needs to be done.




This short-sighted concept worked as long as the weather was fine. As it got colder, the well-known seasonal turnaround struck. The vaccination breakthroughs increased and the number of infections was so high that they quickly began to fill hospitals. A foreseeable catastrophe took its course.

Succumb to your own wellbeing propaganda



How could such a misjudgment come about? There are at least four reasons for this. First, you had succumbed to your own wellness propaganda, which declares the pandemic to be over in spring and summer. The exuberant desire to spread good news had tempted ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to periodically announce the end of the corona pandemic.



In the summer he said that the pandemic was over and that the virus was now a “private matter”. He was not vigorously contradicted; many had secretly hoped he was right. Nobody wanted to depress the happy mood with bad news.

“Common sense” and herbal monks more respected than science



Second, in parts of the country there is a full-blown anti-intellectual hatred in the highest circles. One prefers to listen to one’s “common sense” and herbal monks than to scientists. The Salzburg Governor Wilfried Haslauer flatly accused the virologists of wanting to lock up all people until they die of thirst and starve.



The complexity researcher and government advisor Peter Klimek of the MedUni Vienna commented that the aim was to drive the last scientific experts out of the country on the way to becoming a “banana republic”. Governor Haslauer, on the other hand, feels misunderstood about his “pointed statements” and now sees himself as the victim of a herb witch hunt.

The tourism industry and its belly landing



Thirdly, particular interests prevail in the country. Austria has federal states with only a few hundred thousand inhabitants. Here the businessmen always have the ears of the sovereigns. Ski tourism is the most important source of income, especially for the western federal states, which like to boast of their innovative strength and technological leadership. That is why instruments such as the “Corona traffic light”, which made the risk of infection in individual districts transparent, were denied by the hotel and restaurant trade association, because after all, the hotels are safe and that’s what visitors need to know.



So now, at the latest after Germany declared Austria a high-risk area, you landed on your stomach. Anyone who returns to Germany from vacation in Austria and is not vaccinated must now be quarantined for ten days. The German vacationers, who make up 80 percent of the visitors in parts of Tyrol, will therefore think twice about the trip, at least as long as there is no adequate vaccination offer for their children.

Sensitivities of the weakened ÖVP



The final reason for government failure is the most annoying and unnecessary. The former Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has stepped back into the second row after printing several advertisements, has weakened the Austrian People’s Party very much. Obviously, the ÖVP does not want to give the little green coalition partner any more opportunities to raise their profile and is therefore deliberately giving its health minister the cold shoulder. Due to this eternal back and forth, fighting pandemic in Austria lacks any long-term perspective.

What happens now



A video conference with all state governors is to oblige the states to new, nationwide measures, such as the lockdown for unvaccinated people. Burgenland, for example, sees itself cheated by new restrictions because with a vaccination lottery and other measures it has at least reached a vaccination rate of 71 percent, while this is only 65 percent nationwide and only 60 in strictly right-wing conservative and vaccine-skeptical Upper Austria Percent.



The Burgenland provincial governor, Hans Peter Doskozil, does not want his successes to be ruined by the neglect of the neighbors. The social democrat Doskozil’s interpretation of solidarity can be seen as idiosyncratic.



Virologists consider this kind of small state to be naive anyway. It is an advantage if, for example, the SPÖ mayor of Vienna, Ludwig, has decided on additional measures in recent weeks, unlike his fellow governor from the federal states. However, this leadership strength is only a time advantage in the pandemic. Due to the high numbers in the other parts of the country, it is only a matter of time before there is a drastic increase in Vienna as well.

Lockdown for the unvaccinated



At a Sunday meeting of the National Council Committee, the legal requirements for a lockdown for unvaccinated people are now to be created. In this case, however, the police unions have clearly indicated that they see no chance of controlling it. How is the executive supposed to determine whether an unvaccinated passerby is on the way to deliver firewood to grandmother?



It is also unclear whether the green general Mückstein has not long since moved garrisons that do not exist. The prescribed “2G Plus tests” rule, according to which vaccinated and convalescent patients should also carry out PCR tests, could push the country’s testing capacities to its limits. In some regions, the evaluation of the test took up to 50 hours, which is of course absurd given a test result that is only valid for 48 hours. Hacker attacks on the evaluating institutes may have been to blame for the slow evaluation, but the gigantic expansion of the test capacities that is now necessary is certainly pushing the organizations involved to their limit.



In addition, the government narrative crumbles at this point. Attempts had been made to get people to vaccinate by means of a promise of freedom. For those who are vaccinated, the pandemic is over and they do not have to fear any further restrictions.



But if the vaccinated have to get up earlier every other morning to do a gargle test, then this argument vanishes. Not to mention the fact that those who have been vaccinated twice are now called for the third bite because immunity is waning faster than expected.



For a long time, the little green coalition partner had emphasized to respect civil rights precisely and not want to force anyone to vaccinate. Health Minister Mückstein is now waiting for medical personnel to be vaccinated. It may be objectively justified, but it comes much too late.

Maybe soon for vaccinated people too



The workforce in the hospitals is completely drained after 21 months of the pandemic. In rallies last week, the staff made no secret of their own overload. Employees impressively presented their situation: completely overworked, even in their little free time, they would only think about the logistical problems of the hospital in order to save as many people as possible. And now Mückstein de facto wants to reduce the hospital staff because the unvaccinated employees have to be released?



The contradictions are outrageous and the government’s conduct is outrageous, as it is apparently only trying to cover up its own wrongdoing by pretending to be pursuing a plan that simply no longer exists. Disagreement, incompetence and outright denial of the dangers have made the situation worse and worse. Now the country is probably facing a new lockdown for vaccinated people as well. Or you decide, like Great Britain, for example, to accept a significantly higher number of deaths. A good outcome is hardly in sight.


(Frank Jödicke)