Parts of the ÖVP and the economy want to open up. March 15th is in the room. SPÖ, virologists and the infection process speak against it.
“A lockdown in which nobody participates makes little sense,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz recently told Bild. A glimmer of hope for gastronomy and other closed areas. The direction of the People’s Party seems to be becoming clearer: There should be further opening steps by means of freestyle measures. But when? The first suggestions are on the table.
Against it speaks: There are more and more newly infected. Around 2,400 new positive cases were reported on Thursday. In addition, the South African Corona variant is no longer a Tyrolean specific, but has also arrived in Lower Austria and Vorarlberg. The occupancy of the hospital and intensive care beds remains stable again.
The economy is vehemently pushing for further freedoms. The high number of infections is due to a large extent to the many tests, argued Harald Mahrer (ÖVP), President of the Chamber of Commerce, at an “opening summit” that took the entire Thursday. Mahrer called for “a perspective”. The gastro is happy, organizers continue to feel neglected, virologists are skeptical. The KURIER asked on all sides.
Karlheinz Kopf, WKÖ General Secretary, suggested a date for openings: March 15th. Lower Austria’s governor, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, is in the same direction. The Neos have a more detailed opening plan, with data for different industries from March. What about the government?
It had been adjourned to March 1st. This is followed by the next meeting with experts, social partners and countries. At least part of the ÖVP is already pushing for a resurrection before Easter.
ÖVP country chiefs, Neos and business are impatient
The fact that high-ranking business representatives close to the ÖVP are applying massive pressure for a quick opening is not new – but the fact that the first turquoise state leaders are now calling on their own federal government to act came as a surprise.
With the Lower Austrian regional director Johanna Mikl-Leitner A powerful ÖVP politician speaks out in favor of opening up more industries: The catering industry should reopen in mid-March, says Mikl-Leitner. Regardless of the number of infections: “The tunnel vision only on infections is incomplete,” says Mikl-Leitner. A little later, help came from her colleague Thomas Stelzer (ÖVP) from Upper Austria: “Locking and locking away is neither socially nor economically manageable,” he says.
You are in line with the President of the Chamber of Commerce Harald Mahrer (ÖVP), who insisted on a step-by-step plan on Thursday at a hastily convened “opening summit”. “What does not work is not a perspective,” says Mahrer, who has brought together numerous stakeholders for the virtual conference. Gastro chairman Mario Pulker insists on the opening of the inns on March 15th and believes that up to 70 percent of the establishments will follow suit. It won’t pay off for everyone – keyword missing tourists, closed borders.
A topic that also affects travel agencies: Markus Martinek from the family business Sato Tours demands more differentiated travel warnings. Warning level 6 currently applies to most countries. “This is not the way to sell a trip,” says Martinek. And that although the Austrians, according to the head of the tourist office Helga’s friend “As travel-hungry as never before are”. Industry spokesperson Gregor Kadanka describes the quarantine regulations as “the death of the industry”. “Nobody is ready to go into quarantine for five or ten days after a trip.” The solution could be the green passport for those who have been vaccinated, those who have recovered and those who have been tested.
Support for quick openings comes from the Neos. They presented a “4-step opening plan”. From March 6th, it should be opened step by step – first culture and universities, a week later sports fields and pub gardens, followed by the hotels. At Easter, the gastro and fitness center should open. Is that clever, especially since a lot of visitors can be expected in restaurants at Easter? Neos health spokesman Gerald Loacker: “It is better to be allowed to go to bars with tests than to organize family celebrations at home without a test.”
Many researchers are skeptical about the opening, but not all: environmental medicine Hans-Peter Hutter MedUni Vienna wants to open sports clubs for children and young people as quickly as possible. And not just outdoors, but also in halls. The sports associations will be pleased: They do not understand that indoor and team sports are prohibited. Hundreds of football clubs have registered protests for today, Friday.
Almost all proponents of opening up agree on one thing: Sophisticated security concepts are needed – from the mask requirement to tests as a prerequisite for entry, for example in restaurants.
Only the FPÖ sees it differently: They don’t just want to unlock “as long as there is still something that needs to be unlocked,” says FPÖ club boss Herbert Kickl. The blues are also against the “compulsory mask, vaccination and test”.
Doctors and SPÖ grandees urge caution
While the voices from business, culture and sport are increasing in favor of opening up, scientists in particular are skeptical.
In fact, the number of infections is rising again – most recently to more than 2,000 per day – and the South African mutation has now reached seven federal states.
“From today’s perspective, the time is extremely unfavorable to think about further opening steps,” says the epidemiologist Eva Schernhammer from MedUni Vienna. “I see that with concern because the data situation on the new virus variants is still very unclear at the moment.”
Of course, one could try to make the openings safe, with tests and other accompanying measures: “But that doesn’t mean the number of infections will decrease – but they should. You shouldn’t expect to open now and then suddenly the number of cases go down as if by magic. “
If all older people over 70 years of age and all risk groups had been vaccinated, “you could think a little more relaxed about opening steps” and accept higher case numbers: “But we’re not that far yet,” says Schernhammer. “It would be very desirable if the vaccination went a little faster.”
Virologist Monika Redl-Berger-Fritz, who also conducts research at the MedUni Vienna, warns of patience: A definitive statement as to whether further opening steps are justifiable from a virological point of view is only possible immediately before the opening, says Redlberger-Fritz.
“The data situation is not yet clear enough for openings on March 15th. The actual situation can only be seen immediately before. I understand that the industries need a lead time. But the pandemic doesn’t give us this, ”says Redlberger-Fritz.
The situation could develop in one direction or the other by mid-March. She is then in favor of an opening when the overall situation is stable and the South African variant is certainly locally restricted: “From a virological point of view, giving a carte blanche for March 15th is not possible – you can only look forward a week at most . “
And of course, says Redl-Berger-Fritz, the question remains, what can be enforced in the population at all: “Here politics has to weigh up and decide.”
If it were up to the SPÖ boss Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the answer would be clear: The opposition leader, who herself worked as a virologist for some time, urges caution when it comes to further opening steps. The current infection numbers would be a cause for great concern, says Rendi-Wagner to the KURIER.
That is why no false hopes should be aroused among companies and consumers: “Instead, the government is called upon to get the infections under control.” This is particularly necessary with regard to the more contagious virus variants.
Also the most powerful SPÖ country leader, the Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig, is more cautious than his colleagues from other federal states: Ludwig could imagine that at least the pub gardens will soon be able to open again. Before the meeting with the Chancellor and experts on Monday, they do not want to make any demands.