In Vienna, Demand for Virus Testing Spurs Innovation

After a rocky start and complaints about long waiting times, the City Council had to completely overhaul its initial program. Since then great strides have been made towards more accessible testing all around town, by bus, tram or bicycle.

‘Cluster Buster’ Bus

One of the hardest choices many parents have had to make has been whether, when and how to send their children back to school. To help clarify and reduce the risks, the city has launched the Cluster Buster Bus: Currently a single vehicle, this testing initiative has been deployed citywide since October 1. Created to swiftly identify any outbreak within a school facility, its state-of-the-art testing station can evaluate up to 48 samples per hour, ensuring even large groups can be cleared before the last bell. 

This has been made possible by a groundbreaking testing method developed locally at the Vienna BioCenter: The so-called LAMP test is based on a 20-year-old method of pathogen detection, making it faster and easier and thereby optimal for population-wide screening. The executive city councilor for public health, Peter Hacker, calls the objective “a semblance of normalcy” for the over 280,000 Viennese students and school staff affected by the pandemic.

Testing via Bike Courier

Commissioned by the City of Vienna, this initiative by local delivery company Veloce seeks to cut down on long lines by testing suspected cases right at their doorstep, thus also preventing additional infections en route to medical facilities. Administered by specially-trained couriers, the testing kits consist of a test tube filled with a saline solution that must be gargled for 60 seconds. The courier then delivers the fluid to a lab to be tested for traces of infectious agents, a process which can take for up to 48 hours. An app was specifically designed for this fleet of couriers, currently numbering 80 – with 120 more to be hired in the coming weeks.

The Impfbim

While the coronavirus is dominating the headlines, flu season too is underway, making it more crucial than ever to prevent any further strain on our immune systems. 

In an effort to reduce the number of influenza cases this year, the city has teamed up with the Wiener Linien to launch the Impfbim (vaccination tram), a free of charge mobile medical station providing flu shots. Installing medical staff into one of Vienna’s most beloved and visible landmarks keeps non-COVID patients away from strained hospitals, ensuring the maximum possible resources are retained for fighting the pandemic. 

The tram has already made stops at Karlsplatz, Schwedenplatz and the Belvedere; after the Kennedybrücke, it is scheduled to make two more appearances at Westbahnhof and Schottenring, before ending its rounds on Nov 13. By appointment only (book here), the campaign’s popularity has exceeded all the expectations, with 44,000 Viennese already signed up. 

Lollipop Testing 

While the role of children in spreading the coronavirus is still unclear, research is currently underway for a testing method designed to be as easy as taking candy from a baby – literally. Aimed at young children, this novel idea seeks to make the detection process as pleasant as possible by administering the test in a form of a lollipop: A special underlying material would collect the saliva sample from the participant, which would then be analyzed via the PCR-technique also used for evaluating throat swabs. While considered very promising, the procedure is still in development. Says the city council: “We are working on it.”   

There may be a long road ahead of us, but Viennese resourcefulness is in high gear to help us keep up with every challenge thrown our way.    

Bogdan Brkić
Originally from southern Serbia, he moved to Vienna in 2013 to study German Philology. He is an aspiring journalist whose passions include history, music and French pastries.

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