The federal government plans to end all Corona crisis measures by the end of June. Vaccinations, tests and medications are to be integrated into the regular structures of the Austrian healthcare system by then. Corona will then also no longer be a notifiable disease. This was decided by the Council of Ministers today. The end of compulsory mask use in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes is already planned for the end of April. The high level of immunity in the population and the availability of COVID-19 drugs allow this step, emphasized Health Minister Johannes Rauch and Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler in the press foyer after the Council of Ministers.
“The Corona virus is here to stay, and we are preparing to live with it for the long term,” said Health Minister Johannes Rauch in the press foyer after the Council of Ministers. “The preparations for this have been going on for months, and now we can present a concrete roadmap. We are getting out of crisis mode and starting normal operations,” said Health Minister Rauch. “Finally, we can roll back the crisis measures,” Constitutional Minister Edtstadler expressed relief.
According to the ECDC, the WHO, and renowned experts, the current corona situation is not expected to worsen or overburden the healthcare system significantly. The high immunity of the population mainly justifies this: 75 percent of people in Austria have received at least one vaccination, and many have also already experienced at least one infection.
Due to this development of the pandemic situation, many countries have already lifted their pandemic measures, such as France and Switzerland. In Germany, the measures are scheduled to end on April 7.
The end of crisis measures requires extensive legal and organizational preparations. These include repealing the COVID-19 Measures Act and all COVID-19-related ordinances, as well as amendments to the Epidemic Act and the Ordinance for Notifiable Diseases. SARS-CoV-2 is scheduled to be eliminated as a reportable disease at the end of June.
The existing COVID-19 Basic Measures Regulation is scheduled to be extended until April 30, when it will be eliminated. Until then, the mask requirement will remain in place in so-called “vulnerable” areas, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices. The risk group exemption regulation will also remain in effect until the end of April. It allows people to be exempt from duty who cannot work in a home office and for whom there is no workplace protection option.
Discussions with the provinces and social insurance are needed to bring vaccinations, tests and the dispensing of COVID-19 medications into the regular structures of the healthcare system. Medications are paid for by social insurance in Austria. Regarding vaccinations, a cost-sharing arrangement is usually agreed upon between the federal government, the provinces and the social insurance funds.
In any case, Health Minister Rauch’s goal is to ensure that vaccination and medication remain free of charge. Tests should also be available free of charge to people with symptoms, as before.
Even after the end of the Corona notification requirement, Austria will continue to keep a close eye on the progress of the pandemic. Austria is relying on a mix of evaluation of wastewater from sewage treatment plants and analysis of PCR samples and is thus among the European leaders. The Ministry of Health has expanded wastewater monitoring to over half of the Austrian population. In the case of PCR samples, Austria will, in future, carry out at least 1500 whole-genome sequencings per week, thus fulfilling the recommendation of the European authorities. If necessary, the number of sequencings can be further increased at any time.
In parallel, the Ministry of Health is already working on a fundamental revision of the Epidemic Act and on a pandemic plan. The original version of the current epidemic law dates back to 1913 and has caused numerous difficulties in its practical implementation. The Court of Audit has also already recommended that the Epidemic Act be fundamentally revised. Health Minister Rauch needs to involve all the interest groups concerned. This is to take place in 2023, at any rate. The aim is to send the draft for a new epidemic law for review before the end of this legislative period.
A “pandemic plan” should be available sooner – before the end of this year. This is a kind of “manual” for dealing with the various phases of a pandemic. A new “Crisis Safety Act” draft is already under review.
- source: heute.at/picture: pixabay.com
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