It all sounds pretty familiar after these long pandemic months. And hopes that something would be noticeably different in the fourth wave of infections have evidently not been fulfilled. The Federal Chancellery and the Ministry of Health, the two decisive political actors in a pandemic, often do not play together, not in the same team. But sometimes against each other, often at least past each other.
That was already the case under ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) and ex-Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens). If, for example, one of them wanted more stringent measures, but the other was still hesitant, which occurred in mutual constellations. Or when the ex-chancellor gladly left the announcement of unpopular tightening up to the health minister – or even the country chiefs – and only imposed himself when it was time to bring the good news of openings.
“Intense talks” within the government
Even under the new Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) and Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) a deja vu overtakes a lack of team play against the common opponent pandemic: So the Chancellor rushed on Friday, when after the Governor of Upper Austria also that of Salzburg Finally, they still confessed to regional lockdowns for unvaccinated people, already intending to want a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people from Monday. That’s how he came. However, on the sidelines of a press conference on Friday, shortly after the chancellor’s advance, the health minister consistently evaded journalist questions and only repeatedly referred to federal-state talks and the convening of the main committee of the National Council on Sunday. The already tarnished credibility of the turquoise-green federal government in pandemic management is unlikely to have been helped by this sluggish course.
On Monday, the internal government drama was repeated under the opposite sign: On Sunday evening, Mückstein said in the “ZiB2” that a further package of tightening measures was already “on the table” and could be decided in the coming days. This includes, in particular, a nightly exit restriction also for vaccinated people, a renewed closure of the nighttime catering would be one of the logical consequences of this.
On Monday, however, Schallenberg rejected Mückstein’s advance. He did not rule out re-sharpening, but that “we are going to the night restaurant again, I do not see that at the moment,” said the Chancellor. Instead, an expanded FFP2 mask requirement, home office and a “2Gplus” regulation for events could be among the tightening measures. What is going on in the internal government vote?
The mood between the Chancellery and the Ministry of Health has improved when Schallenberg took office, can be heard from green and turquoise circles. The turquoise “brake” in pandemic measures has recently been felt more strongly again, complains a Green. The Ministry of Health says that the “Wiener Zeitung” is currently in “intensive talks” with the Chancellery about possible tightening. No decisions were expected at the beginning of the week.
Turquoise attack mode
One reason for the Chancellor’s reluctance to re-sharpen the unvaccinated is likely to be the famous statement made by his predecessor Kurz in the summer that the pandemic for vaccinated people was over. The Chancellor’s Party does not seem to want to disappoint all too abruptly the increased expectations among those who have been vaccinated that they will no longer be confronted with overly restrictive restrictions. A salami tactic in the announcement of further tightening is suitable to increase confusion and distrust among the population, but currently seems to be the politically more lenient means.
Other statements from the ÖVP ministers also showed that there is not exactly harmony in the government about the further pandemic course. Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) said on Monday, surprisingly brusquely, “nothing at all from the statements made by the health minister.”
In the early evening, her party colleague, Minister of Economics Margarete Schramböck, sent a message. She appeals “urgently” to the Ministry of Health to focus on drug procurement. While several European countries already have procurement agreements for this, “Health Minister Mückstein changes his strategy almost every day and puts tightening and restrictions on people who have been vaccinated,” said Schramböck.
Klimek sees an opportunity to prevent a hard lockdown
The opposition parties also spoke out on Monday against curfews for vaccinated people, the SPÖ at least at the current time, the Neos in principle.
FPÖ boss Herbert Kickl did not let himself be deterred on Monday from his criticism of the government measures even by a corona infection diagnosed with him: What particularly hurts him is that his infection meant that he was unable to attend the demonstration against the measures announced for Saturday could participate, so Kickl.
In any case, exit restrictions have been in place for those who have not been vaccinated and those who have not recovered since Monday. As known from previous lockdowns, they are only allowed to leave their living space for exceptions such as going to work, running errands in everyday life or for psychological and physical recovery.
However, experts largely agree that further measures to restrict contact will be required in order to prevent further overloading of intensive capacities.
The chances are very good that another hard lockdown, including all-day exit restrictions for everyone, the closure of retail and gastronomy, could be prevented this time, says complexity researcher Peter Klimek about this newspaper. The prerequisite for this, however, is a combination of further contact restrictions – which could include a night curfew for everyone – and a significantly higher vaccination rate. Without this, “even in the event of a temporary relaxation, we might have a similar situation in the hospitals soon after Christmas,” says Klimek.