The Covid Surge in Austria A Warning to the World
At University Hospital Salzburg, intensive care doctor Andreas Kokofer observed the surge in Covid-19 infections with severe unavoidable. In cases reaching a daily record high of 15,809 on November 19, Kokofer and colleagues prepared themselves for the influx of patients.
The state of Salzburg is a particular hotspot of the current explosion, with 1,731 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, compared to 1,110 across Austria in total. In anticipation of the situation worsening in the coming weeks, hospital administrators across the region are already beginning to consider the possibility of making difficult decisions where Covid-19 patients may qualify for intensive care, and not.
So how did Austria end up in such a dire situation, while many countries were planning their ways to get out of the pandemic? The factors are many, from declining resistance levels to a social and cultural storm, driven by long-standing political divisions, leading many Austrians to reject Covid-19 vaccines.
Significantly, the Austrian experience could hit many countries soon – and it will all come down to a dangerous balance of numbers. As the crisis threatened to get out of control, Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg was forced into a decision that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Since Monday, the country has entered a a month of national lockdown, which advocates the return of prohibitions that many hope will disappear for good. As of 2020, the Austrian population is being asked to stay at home and only leave home for essential purposes. Schools remain open, even if parents are asked to keep their children at home if possible.
The decision was met with anger in some corners of the country. Last week, 40,000 people took to the streets of Vienna, some carried outrageous placards likening Schallenberg to Nazi leaders.
But while doctors say the current crisis is incomparable to the early days of the pandemic, they remain deeply concerned about how the health care system will cope in the coming weeks. “The situation is tight,” Kokofer said. “We need to cancel planned cancer and heart surgeries. The lock-up gives us some hope that the numbers will reach the level where they are healing.”
While these new bans have hit many people in Austria unexpectedly, experts say the crisis has been going on for a long time. According to Eva Schernhammer, an epidemiologist at the Medical University of Vienna, the onset of winter and people working indoors accelerate the spread of Covid-19. The level of resistance also began to decline among those vaccinated earlier in the year, making them more vulnerable to the Delta variant.
Schernhammer suspects this is a particular problem for Austria, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe: 65.7 per cent of the population is completely ill, a rate lower than in the United Kingdom (68.7 per cent). ), France, Italy, and Germany. In comparison, Portugal has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, with 86.9 percent of its population fully vaccinated. Since November 22, the daily number of Covid-19 cases per million people is 145 in Portugal, compared with 1,527 in Austria.