Austria’s Covid Surge Is a Warning to the World

At University Hospital Salzburg, intensive care physician Andreas Kokofer has been observing the surge of Covid-19 infections with a grim inevitability. With instances having reached a daily record high of 15,809 on November 19, Kokofer and colleagues are bracing themselves for an inflow of sufferers.

The state of Salzburg is a specific hotspot of the present outbreak, with 1,731 cases per 100,000 people over the previous seven days, in contrast to 1,110 throughout Austria as a complete. With the scenario anticipated to worsen in the weeks to come, hospital directors throughout the area have begun to think about the chance of creating robust selections over which Covid-19 sufferers will qualify for intensive care, and which won’t.

So how has Austria ended up in such a dire predicament, whereas many international locations are planning their exit methods from the pandemic? The causes are multifold, from waning ranges of immunity to a social and cultural storm, pushed by long-standing political divisions, that has led many Austrians to reject the Covid-19 vaccines.

Crucially, what Austria is experiencing may quickly hit scores of different international locations—and all of it comes down to a precarious balancing of the numbers. As the disaster threatened to get uncontrolled, Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg was pressured into a choice that appeared unthinkable simply a few weeks in the past. As of Monday, the nation has entered a month-long national lockdown, ushering in the return of restrictions many hoped can be gone for good. Just like in 2020, the Austrian inhabitants has been requested to keep at residence and solely go away the home for important functions. Schools stay open, though mother and father have been requested to preserve their kids residence if in any respect doable.

The choice has been met with anger in sure corners of the nation. Last weekend, 40,000 folks took to the streets in Vienna, some carrying provocative placards likening Schallenberg to Nazi leaders.

But whereas docs say the present disaster isn’t comparable to the very early days of the pandemic, they continue to be deeply involved about how the well being care system will cope over the coming weeks. “The situation is tight,” says Kokofer. “We’re having to cancel planned cancer and cardiac surgeries. The lockdown gives us some hope that the numbers will reach a level where it stabilizes.”

While these new restrictions have hit many individuals in Austria unexpectedly, specialists say the disaster has been brewing for a while. According to Eva Schernhammer, an epidemiologist at the Medical University of Vienna, the onset of winter and folks transferring indoors has made it simpler for Covid-19 to unfold. Immunity ranges are additionally beginning to wane amongst those that have been vaccinated earlier in the 12 months, making them extra susceptible to the Delta variant.

Schernhammer suspects that that is a specific drawback for Austria, which has considered one of the lowest vaccination charges in Western Europe: 65.7 p.c of the inhabitants is absolutely jabbed, a charge decrease than that of the United Kingdom (68.7 p.c), France, Italy, and Germany. In comparability, Portugal has considered one of the highest vaccination charges in Europe, with 86.9 p.c of its inhabitants absolutely immunized. As of November 22, the every day tally of Covid-19 instances per million folks was 145 in Portugal, in contrast to 1,527 in Austria.

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