Austria has pursued a strategy of early and strict lockdown followed by a controlled re-opening of public life. In fact, Austria has been one for the first European countries to respond with very restrictive measures to the COVID-19 pandemic through a policy of social distancing and self-isolation as well as the gradual closure of businesses, shops, schools, universities, restaurants and bars, sports facilities and parks.
The aim was to slow down the spread of the pandemic as fast as possible, to reduce the number of new infections, to protect and safe in particular persons at risk and to ensure that the Austrian health system maintains the full capacity to deal with the pandemic.
Six weeks later it seems that our measures are paying off. Today, the situation in Austria looks promising: the epidemiological curve of new infections has flattened and since a few days the number of new infections per day has been less than 100. The number of people in hospitals is going down and the number of those who recovered is going up.
Austrian Government introduced an economic support and recovery package in the amount of 36 bn € which equals almost 10% of our GDP
As of 22 April, we have had 14.870 cumulative confirmed cases, of which 3087 are currently active. 524 persons are in regular hospital beds and 176 in intensive care units. This means that our hospitals have the availability of around 16.000 regular hospital beds and 1074 beds for intensive care patients.
These developments allowed the Austrian government to start with the next, equally challenging, phase of a controlled and gradual easing of measures. On 14 April small shops (under 400 square metres), as well as hardware stores and garden centres opened again under precautionary measures, such as the obligation to wear a protective mask.
In the next step, on 1 May, all shops will open unless decided otherwise. Restaurants and hotels will follow by mid-May at the earliest. Schools will open gradually starting as of 15 May. There will still be no events until the end of June. The government has been very clear that it reserves the right to pull the “emergency brake” at any time and reverse the openings if the numbers demand it. This is why new measures are introduced in a 14-day interval only which allows the authorities to observe carefully whether any of the new measures have a negative effect on the spreading of the virus.
Together with the easing of measures, Austria is further strengthening its containment strategy. This means to be more effective at contact tracking of newly infected people, to provide for more and quicker access to testing as well as to receive results of tests much faster. Until 22 April, Austria had conducted 201,794 tests for a population of 8 million people.
Our government also decided immediately after the introduction of lockdown measures on an economic support and recovery package in the amount of 36 bn € which equals almost 10% of our GDP: 4bn € for immediate emergency measures, 9bn € for state guarantees and liabilities, 15bn € direct support to businesses that have been hit particularly harshly and 10bn € for tax deferrals.
Overall, there has been a high degree of solidarity and understanding among institutions and above all people residing in Austria to deal with COVID-19. The government was keen to inform regularly about developments in a very transparent, calm and fact-based manner. The Austrian Parliament met throughout the crisis – under special precautionary measures – and adopted unanimously a COVID-19 law that provides the basis for restrictive measures and economic emergency measures.
It is fair to say that people residing in Austria have shown remarkable support and respect for these unusual and exceptional measures. But even with the gradual re-opening of social and economic life in Austria the restrictive and precautionary measures, in particular of social distancing, applying strict hygiene and wearing of protective masks still have to be followed.
Nikolaus LUTTEROTTI Ambassador of Austria in Serbia
Nikolaus Luteroti ambasador