The Coronavirus in Austria | First Incidents, Few Fears

While some make dystopian jokes, others are buying the last face masks on the Internet. How the country is dealing with COVID-19.

Update: The first case of coronavirus has been reported in Vienna. On the morning of Feb 27., a 72-year-old man was brought to the Rudolfsstiftung hospital where he is currently being treated.

On Wednesday, 26 Feb., there were three reports about the highly-infectious coronavirus from China – on the front page of, the largest online news site in Austria: “Woman who was on vacation did not die of coronavirus”, “All suspected cases of coronavirus in Tyrol negative” and “Suspected coronavirus: all-clear for school.”

No need to panic, it seems. Although the likelihood of the disease spreading to Austria following its outbreak in Milan and the northern Italian region of Lombardy have put the country on edge.

Earlier this week, authorities had stopped a train on its way from Verona, Italy, to Munich, Germany, at the Austrian border, while passengers were tested for the virus, including two suspected of exposure. All tested negative, and the train was allowed to continue after a few hours’ stop. So far, so good. 

Coronavirus in Innsbruck

The next day, however the first two cases were identified in Innsbruck, Tyrol. The man and woman were immediately quarantined and the couple’s friends, colleagues and family examined to prevent further spread. Then, on 26 February, news outlets reported that a Viennese school (Albertgasse, 1080) had been evacuated because a teacher was alleged to be sick. However, it turned out the school had just been closed (with everyone still inside) not evacuated and the teacher not infected with the coronavirus.

The nervousness is palpable, among both public and the authorities. Nobody wants to make a mistake. On the social networks, people have posted videos on the best ways to wash your hands and shared lists of supplies to keep on hand in case of a city-wide shut down. News outlets regularly posted *breaking news* and templates with tiny information bits; Terms, such as “Ausgangssperre” (curfew) and “Hamsterkäufe” (panic buying), were making the rounds.

On Facebook and Twitter, a photo was circulated of a man in a face mask buying shopping carts full of supplies in different food stores in Tyrol. Often shared with the caption “So it begins.”

Spotted: A man in Innsbruck doing “Hamsterkäufe” (panic shopping).

And yet, no one seems to be too sure about what it was that had actually begun. While some are honestly worried, respected voices are also asking for calm: Florian Klenk tweets: “’The risk of infection in Austria is very low,” says virologist Judith Aberle on ORF. “There is no background activity, only mild diseases. Children have very mild cases. What a media and political panic hype. Fascinating to watch.” Klenk indirectly accused some tabloids of spreading hysteria. His colleague, ZiB2-anchorman Armin Wolf, joined him, tweeting: “I would never have thought that I would ever consider the Kronenzeitung to be a comparatively serious quality medium.” He added a picture of today’s front page of both tabloids Österreich – with screaming headlines – and the comparably moderate Kronenzeitung.

WHO reports on COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) is constantly updating its website with the latest updates on the coronavirus. The most frequently asked questions are answered here. At present it says:

“If you are not in an area where COVID-19 is spreading, or if you have not travelled from one of those areas or have not been in close contact with someone who has and is feeling unwell, your chances of getting it are currently low. However, it’s understandable that you may feel stressed and anxious about the situation. It’s a good idea to get the facts to help you accurately determine your risks so that you can take reasonable precautions. Your healthcare provider, your national public health authority and your employer are all potential sources of accurate information on COVID-19 and whether it is in your area. It is important to be informed of the situation where you live and take appropriate measures to protect yourself. (See Protection measures for everyone).

If you are in an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 you need to take the risk of infection seriously. Follow the advice issued by national and local health authorities. Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable.”

Coronavirus Hotline in Austria

Phone: 0800 555 621
Available: Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 17:00


(Foto: Wikimedia/Pharexia, Adûnâi )

Julia Seidl
Julia started out at "Die Presse." She went on to study "Journalism & Media Management" in Vienna and worked for several local news outlets such as ORF, Kurier and Falter before joining Metropole as online content and social media manager.

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