COVID-19 in Austria

Translated from an ORF article, journalist: Sinan Ersek

The ability to adapt to uncertainty, meaning not being able to predict the future, not being in control, prompted new behaviors and demanded for adaptation and at times drastic change in Austria like anywhere else.

Regarding the political reaction to the pandemic, restrictions came early and were extremely rigorous. The public would not have co-operated and accepted the strict measures, had it not seen the worrying pictures and concerning data from neighboring Italy.

Additionally the “Ischgl-Gate” and other ski resorts in the Tyrolean Alps made it clear how rapid the exponential growth of the virus really was. In comparison, the capital of Vienna with, around 2 million inhabitants, accounted for roughly 2,300 (officially) infected cases. A proof of a strong West-East gradient. 

It appears that “The Hammer and the Dance “ has been extremely well followed. The chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, very quickly and unmistakably stated: “Soon each one of us will know of someone who died from the virus“. Austrians accepted and understood this martial warning. Soon thereafter the people started to waltz again, a small relaxation of measures here, another exception there.

Kurz united the majority of Austrians under the idea of protecting everyone’s health and economical stability. Balancing Life and Livelihood. Concrete information, including negative information, has been communicated in a crystal clear and honest way. Informing the public via daily press-conferences about processes, expectations, and consequences including back-up plans outlining what will happen if plans should not develop as expected.

The general public was never under the impression that they had been insufficiently informed. This culture of honesty and trust enabled everyone to think, talk, share, and make informed decisions. 

From a medical point of view, Austria has different prerequisites than neighboring Italy or Spain. Over the past 40 years considerable investment went towards the health care system. It could very well be the trust in this system that is the reason for the notorious Austrian “Gemütlichkeit“. Even if Austrians love to whine and complain, deep down they trust and know that all will be fine and that the system will back them.

The acceptance of authority (in this case of a young and charismatic Sebastian Kurz) enveloped varieties of interaction. No Anti-lockdown protests occurred like in various other countries and even those who did not vote for Kurz, accepted his leadership.

It might be worthwhile to mention that the patience and acceptance rate of the public may be explained by the spatial and geographical structure of the country. Austria is still a rural country. Even in Vienna, the only large city, numerous green spaces prevail, including parks, the so-called “Schrebergärten“ (similar to community gardens), the surrounding Vienna woods, fields and bike paths along the Danube.