Virologist for extended Easter holidays

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With around 500 new infections per day and rising hospital numbers in Vienna, virologist Andreas Bergthaler speaks of a tightrope act as far as the incidence of infection is concerned. He can imagine an extension of the Easter vacations to ease the situation.

In the “Wien heute” interview, Bergthaler thinks it is a proposal worth considering to extend the Easter vacations to take pressure off. “It would probably cause little harm and fall in a window of time where we expect numbers to be very high right now.” Fundamentally, however, he said, school openings are an example where it has become clear what measures need to be taken to accompany reopening, such as regular testing.

Danger of exponential growth
At a meeting between the federal government, experts and representatives from the states on Monday, the development of seven-day incidence, hospital occupancy and the spread of virus variants were discussed. “In all these areas, it is clear that the numbers continue to rise and follow the forecasts. Accordingly, we have to assume that the numbers will continue to rise in the coming weeks,” said Bergthaler, who was at the meeting.

Nothing came of an opening summit that had been planned. “From a purely virological perspective, it was already clear two weeks ago that it could not be about openings,” said Bergthaler, a molecular physician. There had been a consensus not to open, he said. At the moment, he said, the numbers are rising linearly, but there is a risk that “at some point this will start to rise exponentially, as it did in October and November.”

It’s a balancing act at the moment, Bergthaler tells “Wien heute.” “From a scientific point of view, there is a lot to be said for the fact that we have to massively reduce the numbers. If we do nothing at all and just wait, the numbers will blow up in our faces.” Vaccinations wouldn’t solve the problem at this point, he said, because it’s premature at this point. “At the same time, we could be on the cusp of the next big wave, and there’s something to be said for that if we don’t take countermeasures, that it will happen.”

The situation in hospitals is lagging several weeks behind, he said. “The people who are infected now, if they are unlucky, will end up in hospital in two or three weeks,” Bergthaler said. Complicating matters is the B.1.1.7 mutation first discovered in the U.K. A study from the U.K. would show that the virus variant leads to more severe courses. “Even if infection numbers remain stable, that would mean more people end up in the hospital later.”

“In six months, incidences where we’re now saying we need to go into a lockdown immediately are not quite as relevant because we know the vulnerable populations are protected by vaccination.” Bergthaler describes the next at least two months as a “difficult window of opportunity” because infection rates continue to rise, and while vaccination is being done vigorously, “it’s not yet enough to really protect everyone who needs it.”

source: vienna.ORF.at/picture: pixabay.com

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