According to simulation researcher Niki Popper, around 15 percent of Austrians have already survived an infection and are therefore immune for at least a certain amount of time. A decision on possible further opening steps will not be made until March 1st, announced Anschober.
On February 25, 2020, two cases were confirmed in Tyrol for the first time, the first Covid-19 death was reported on March 12, and 8,348 people have now died from or with Covid-19. Around a year after the first proven cases, according to the models of the simulation researcher Popper from the Technical University of Vienna, including unreported cases, around 15 percent of Austrians have already had a SARS-CoV-2 infection. “That is currently 1.3 to 1.5 million people who are at least temporarily immune,” explained Popper. In this spread, however, the effectiveness of the immunization is still low, 50, 60 or 70 percent of the population must have survived an infection.
The vaccination is “a real game changer, but not the long-term solution, we will experience new mutations, there will be a new normal,” said Popper. How far the mutations have already spread is difficult to assess, but in some regions it is already over 50 percent. The spread of the British mutation B.1.1.7 and the South African B.1.351 was not prevented, but an “escalation was prevented”. Popper assumes that “we can slow down the explosion with the measures we have now taken”. It is crucial that the number of new infections can be pushed down with intensive testing and isolation. The researcher also sees “great potential” in the so-called nose drill tests in schools if we can quickly isolate cases of infection.
The bad news is that the effective reproduction number is greater than one. This means that one infected person infects more than one other person. On the other hand, the number of hospital beds occupied continues to decline slightly. Now it is about “No-Covid”, but about low numbers overall. “If we climb slightly for four weeks now, we won’t have it under control,” stressed Popper. What is needed now is at least stability and a slightly decreasing number of cases. Because only then can economic, social, societal, cultural and medical aspects be brought under one roof. In addition, the data situation must be improved, demanded the scientist.
Anchober called the past “year that we will never forget”. For the next few weeks until Easter, he expects a “real risk phase” with “slightly increasing numbers”. According to the Minister of Health, the virus variants are currently exerting “greater pressure on daily infection figures,” he said at the press conference. On average, 1,541 people were infected with SARS-CoV-2 every day in the past week.
The Minister of Health said that the future handling of the virus should be defined with a “very precise assessment” of the Covid 19 situation. March 1st is “the day on which a decision will be made,” said Anschober. He therefore considers further opening steps before this critical date to be unrealistic. The decision to extend the exit restrictions in Tyrol should still be made on Friday.
Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) did not rule out the opening of the restaurant business in March on Friday after discussions with industry representatives. Now restaurateurs and tourism professionals have “spoken out very clearly in favor of the concept of entry tests,” Kurz said in a statement. It was agreed that the industries “develop concepts for entry tests” by March 1, “how it could be possible to agree further opening steps despite the pandemic”. All of this “all depends on the infection process,” emphasized the Chancellor. It only succeeds “if as many people as possible take part and reduce their social contacts,” said Kurz. “If there is a sharp increase in the number of infections, further opening steps make no sense,” said the Chancellor.
Against the renewed increase in the number of cases, one is working with 250,000 tests per day, said Anschober previously. A year ago you started with 2,000 a day. The tests are to be increased further. The Minister of Health also emphasized that the mutations have “expanded massively” and are on the way to “dominance”. The evidence also shows that the East is more affected by the British variant, and the South African variant is known to be circulating in Tyrol. The population still has to be “very, very consistent”.
Overall, a “clear strategy” is already being worked on “as far as life with the virus is concerned”. Because “it will not say goodbye, it will love it, but we will be able and must find a form” so that it can be dealt with. He also announced that he would pay closer attention to secondary effects, such as negative psychosocial effects, and create perspectives for young people who are particularly suffering from the crisis. Above all, the larger number of vaccinated people – this week the number of 500,000 vaccinations will be reached – “is decisive for the game,” emphasized Anschober. The situation should therefore relax around Easter, especially among the risk groups.
Günter Weiss, Director of the Department of Internal Medicine, Innsbruck Medical University, admitted the first Covid-19 patients to the hospital around a year ago and “made the leap from theory to practice”. He emphasized that no infectious disease had been researched so well so quickly. However, it is still not known which patients can develop a severe course and why. Even people without classic risk factors and previous illnesses had to be given intensive care, they were “completely struck down”. Weiss also pointed out that there is still no “really effective drug” against Covid-19.
“Corona has unfortunately become part of our lives and will remain part of our lives, we will have to live with the virus and the constant changes,” stated Weiss. He stressed that the balancing act between taking necessary action and recovering or returning to normal will continue.
The question of proportionality is also “the great challenge” for the medical director of the Anton Proksch Institute, which specializes in addiction diseases, Michael Musalek. For him, the Covid 19 crisis is also a “psychosocial crisis”. Mental health problems would spread “like a viral disease”. Especially people who previously had psychological problems are now more affected. Overall, one sees an “increased irritability”. “The Covid crisis is a real fire accelerator,” said the psychiatrist and psychotherapist. More people are affected by the psychological problems than by the virus itself, said the expert.
Looking back on a year of Covid-19 in Austria, there are also many bright spots, the experts agreed. Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl from the Medical University of Vienna emphasized the “unbelievable speed of knowledge transfer” last year. The sequence of the virus was published immediately, test options were developed “incredibly quickly”, and all of this was accompanied by numerous studies.
She also emphasized that “we all” have to go on living with the virus. The challenge for the next months and years is the development of drugs and the research “what predestines for a severe course”, why some people have taste disorders or other intestinal symptoms. In addition, it must be found out what can be measured by what protects after a vaccination and against infection. The question is what antibody level you need to be protected for a year, for example, said the virologist.
The head of the Jewish Museum Vienna, Danielle Spera, had to fight directly with Covid 19. The unwanted souvenir from a business trip already proved to be a challenge in the “relatively mild course” – including the often underestimated long-term consequences. So until today she has not regained her sense of smell. Spera’s husband even had to go to hospital treatment after ten days of illness, she said. Covid-19 unfortunately “doesn’t follow any pattern” and has “changed the lives of all of us”. Fortunately, research is working on solutions. How vaccinations can improve the situation is shown by the “example of Israel”, said Spera, who launched an appeal for the cultural establishments to be opened as soon as possible. Spera’s youngest daughter lives in Israel. The 18-year-old “got her second vaccination yesterday”, which shows “it can be done”.