Lockdowns: The price Austria pays for opening up

TEsten and open is Sebastian Kurz’s strategy in the fight against the pandemic. Testing, opening, but above all one thing: closing selectively when the numbers rise dramatically. In the city of Wiener Neustadt, they have been rising for weeks. It is located about 50 kilometers south of Vienna and with it an urban conurbation with 50,000 inhabitants will be cordoned off for the first time from Wednesday.

If the federal government has its way, citizens will then only be allowed to leave their city with a negative corona test. This should be controlled by the police and probably also by the army.

“Forces of the armed forces are ready to support massive tests”

The outbreak of the South African variant is currently the largest known such case in the EU, said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. An exit from Tyrol is temporarily only possible with a negative test.

Such an alliance last existed on the inner Austrian border with Tyrol. Soldiers of the Federal Army were stationed there to control departure from the state. Forces of the armed forces are also involved in the control of the external borders.

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After lockdowns in Austria had barely worked recently, they switched to selective openings – an approach that many Germans consider to be a role model. This goes hand in hand with extensive tests in schools, and visits to so-called body-hugging service providers such as hairdressers also require a negative test.

To this end, a dense network of test facilities has been created across the country. In order to be able to continue making this possible, however, areas with high numbers of infections are to be closed.

Source: WORLD infographic

For example, the exit from the Pongau district in the state of Salzburg has been controlled since Friday, and the Hermagor district in Carinthia will be sealed off from Tuesday, also with the participation of the army. So far, however, there is no experience with such measures in a city.

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To make matters worse: Wiener Neustadt is a regional center and destination for many commuters, at the same time a large proportion of the residents commute from there to Vienna every day. The Wiener Neustadt train station recorded 30,000 travelers every day.

The reason for the crackdown is the incidence of Wiener Neustadt, currently the second highest in Austria at 530. It is higher at 573 only in Hermagor, and Pongau (486.5) is also classified as a high incidence area.

Source: WORLD infographic

According to the will of the Ministry of Health in Vienna, an automatic mechanism should apply to areas with such high numbers: If the incidence rises above 400, it will be cordoned off. A negative corona test should then automatically be required to leave these regions. The obligation to test must be maintained until the incidence has fallen below 200 for a period of ten days.

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Coronavirus in Austria

In the case of long-term high incidence in a district or region – with over 400 for longer than a week – Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) also demands further measures “by the governor”, i.e. the prime minister. This refers to further quarantine regulations and, above all, more intensive controls to determine whether the corona rules are being adhered to. All of this has been in effect since last Friday and should be implemented by Wednesday.

There is little enthusiasm for this approach in Wiener Neustadt. “The proportionality is not seen by anyone,” said Mayor Klaus Schneeberger in an interview with the radio station Ö1. He considers the 400 incidence mark to be “excessive”. “But I’m doing it because it’s my job.”

There is “no general criticism of Corona measures,” a spokesman for the mayor told WELT, while Schneeberger is negotiating the terms of the lockdown with the state. Many questions are still open.

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But, according to the spokesman, you don’t oppose it, you don’t understand the lockdown as a punitive measure either. The only question that arises is whether a metropolitan area can be treated like an area.

Mayor Schneeberger has especially criticized the tight schedule. Because in addition to personnel capacities to control the departure, one thing above all is required: sufficient test capacities. According to the ÖVP politician, the city can currently carry out around 2000 tests a day.

Source: WORLD infographic

During the lockdown, however, a daily need of 15,000 tests is expected. The armed forces are to be used more and more here. It is already supporting the local authorities with the tests.

Schneeberger rules out that this almost eightfold increase in test capacities will be achieved by Wednesday: “I need a hundred militiamen. I need around 60 testers, and I need the premises. ”But it will probably be done by Friday.

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He considers the health minister’s decree to be “questionable”. It is irresponsible to demand control from people who do not have the opportunity to be tested. It remains unclear whether the controls can begin in full from Wednesday.

From the side of the armed forces one sees it more calmly. “We assume that it will start on Wednesday or Thursday,” a spokesman for the Lower Austria military command told WELT. In any case, one assumes a “larger number” of soldiers who will be dispatched – primarily for the test roads.

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Should assistance with exit controls be necessary, this would definitely be done “in cooperation with the police”. It has not yet been decided whether there will be fixed checkpoints or more flexible controls.

According to the instruction from Vienna, it is said that “controls must be carried out with the highest possible intensity by means of random checks”. Accordingly, the armed forces can expressly be requested to provide support.

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