It doesn't take Germany to beat the coronavirus: Austria's surprising success

On March 20, the United States Embassy in Vienna released a statement to all of its compatriots. Austria, like other European countries, had been declared Level 4, a category that is usually accompanied by the message "Do not travel"

From the embassy they warned all Americans to leave the Central European country immediately. Five days later, US cases and deaths from Covid-19 increase dramatically while Austria remains one of the The world's most unique – and effective – cases of containing the epidemic. All this is much more striking considering that the country is border with the northern part of Italy and his first death from the virus came on March 14 in Vienna, a day before Spain.

The successful example of Germany has been much discussed, but the small neighboring territory is not far behind. So far, it has accounted for 5,888 cases and only 34 deaths. The case fatality rate of coronavirus in Austria (0.57%) is second only to Germany (0.5%) and it is far below the world average (4.5%) and even South Korea, a country that is also being applauded for its management of this health crisis.

The truth is that both countries, Austria and Germany, have many things in common in addition to a language and an excellent harvest of Baroque composers. Some of them have helped the country chaired by the 'green' economist Alexander Van der Bellen to with a good prognosis to overcome the worst epidemic in a century despite not having the huge resources or industrial capacity of its northern neighbor.

Unlike Germany, which has taken a long time to restrict the departure of its citizens or the opening of establishments, Austria has taken some measures in recent weeks: it is forbidden to meet in public with more than five people and the population is urged to stay home, except to carry out essential tasks or to walk with the companions – again, up to five – of house. It has also encouraged teleworking and ordered the closure of all non-essential establishments.

In this sense, Austria shares strategies with Spain and many other countries. For example, they have also launched an application called "Stop Corona" so that each user can notify who else has had contact. If one of those people shows symptoms of coronavirus, the rest of their contacts will be notified.

So where is the difference that makes them having so few fatalities?

Great healthcare system and lots of tests

The first clue may be on the number of intensive care places for every 100,000 inhabitants, where the podium is occupied by Germany, Luxembourg and Austria. They have 29, 25 and 22 ICU beds, respectively, compared to 10 in Spain. This is essential to ensure that these types of units do not collapse, as is happening here or in Italy, since when this limit is crossed, the fatality rate of the Covid-19 increases dramatically.

Secondly, once the hospital system is guaranteed to resist, the next recipe is to do massive tests: "The most important thing now is to do tests, tests and more tests", Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Prime Minister, recently said. To date, Austria has carried out 35,995 tests to detect SARS-CoV-2 according to data from its Ministry of Health. It may seem like a small number compared to the big numbers that have been heard lately, but it is not bad for a country of 8.8 million inhabitants. The ratio is 4,090 tests per million people, which places Austria even above Germany and only below the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Australia.

In fact, Kurz has promised that they will perform 15,000 tests a day in the coming weeks. "Our goal is that the number of infections double only every 14 days and not every two, three or five. In addition, we will take the necessary steps to keep it stable once we return to normal life, "he said recently.

However, despite being one of the countries in the world that has carried out the most tests per inhabitant, both the Austrian press and the opposition demand more tests from the government and warn: maybe we are not an exception. "It is still unclear why Austria has such a low case fatality rate, as the Netherlands or Switzerland have very similar health systems and a much higher rate," he notes. Simon Rosner, journalist for the Austrian Weiner Zeitung, to El Confidencial.

Rosner highlights three conclusions that he has drawn from his interviews with Austrian epidemiologists: 1) the same health systems will end up having similar case fatality rates, lower than those countries with highly saturated hospitals, such as Spain or Italy 2) practically all European countries are counting the coronavirus deaths in the same way. There is no trick. 3) the case fatality rate in Austria may be lower because many young people became infected during the ski vacation.

Whenever talking about the countries that are most successfully containing this pandemic, mention is made of South Korea's great technological investment, Chinese control over the geolocation of citizens or Germany's enormous industrial capabilities to build sanitary equipment such as respirators. . However, the achievement that little Austria is obtaining seems to indicate that some of the ingredients of that recipe can be within reach of any pantry.