The corona crisis has been declared over in Austria so often that you can no longer keep up with counting. At the end of June, for example, Sebastian Kurz, who was still Chancellor at the time, said that “the pandemic was over for everyone”, “those who are vaccinated”. He repeated the same thing in July, and then again in September. In October August Wöginger, a powerful party friend and ÖVP parliamentary group leader, thanked Kurz for having “mastered the pandemic in such an excellent way”; the past tense seemed to be chosen deliberately.
Now we have a new Chancellor at the beginning of November – and the number of infections is up to 9388 new cases every day. For comparison: measured by the size of the population, that would be just under 94,000 new Covid-19 infected people in Germany. There are currently a good 37,000.
Now there is a debate about further tightening, even the word lockdown, which has now been practically bid farewell, can be heard again. On Thursday, Vienna passed the 2-G rule for gastronomy and events, and children from five years of age in the capital are also to be vaccinated with their parents’ consent with immediate effect. Compared to Austria, Vienna is currently not only the federal state with the lowest incidence, but also a pioneer in adapting the measures to the infection rate.
At the Corona summit on Friday evening, the federal government and the governors will discuss the next nationwide steps, one of the top goals: The winter season should not be endangered. First of all, the pandemic fight in large parts of the country is characterized by exit controls from districts with a particularly high number of corona cases; its effectiveness is of course controversial. Germany is also taking a closer look: A travel warning Doesn’t seem out of the question, but Austria stands for the time being not on the risk list.
The vaccination rate is shamefully low – from west to east
So the pandemic is not over, not even for those who have been vaccinated. The vaccination quota in the country is simply too low for that – Austrians are even at the bottom in Western Europe. Only 62.9 percent have so far had complete vaccination protection. The situation is particularly bad in Upper Austria, where so far only 58 percent have been willing to be vaccinated. In truth, it is a shamefully low rate from west to east that is currently driving the country back into the pandemic crisis.
The populists of the FPÖ, who co-govern in Upper Austria, have played a large part in the great skepticism about vaccinations. Federal party leader Herbert Kickl has been talking for months about the fact that the rights of freedom have been “mutilated” by the measures that “suppress” the people. The 3-G rule at work, which has been in force in Austria since the beginning of November, equates to “vaccine rape”. Kickl even had a certificate presented to certify that he had not been vaccinated.
As in Germany, the federal government was also hesitant to take unpopular measures, and advertisements for the vaccination campaign were almost impossible to see in the summer. Many were of the opinion that it would not turn out that bad – and politicians repeatedly emphasized, contrary to all expert opinions, that the pandemic had already ended. What it could also be, as, for example, a look at Spain shows, where the vaccination rate is 79 percent and the incidence is currently just over 20.
Austria is a long way from that – as is Germany, which is just a little better off when it comes to vaccination rates. What remains is the hope that the acute situation and the prospect of another gloomy winter will lead a few hundred thousand people to finally get up for vaccination. So that after the fourth wave this pandemic can really be declared over at some point.
This column will also appear in the Austria newsletter on November 5, 2021. Register now for free.