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World

Austria bets on millions of tests to contain Covid-19

  • She says tests are a key weapon in the fight against the pandemic until the vaccine rollout has been completed.
Published February 23, 2021

VIENNA: While Austria has struggled to contain the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, it is fast emerging as a world leader in testing as a way to reopen schools and businesses.

The small nation with a population of just under nine million tested three million people last week alone, with the mass-testing strategy forming a key plank for getting pupils back into the classroom.

Half of those three million tests were administered in schools, where twice-weekly tests have been mandatory since in-person lessons restarted earlier this month.

Only a tiny percentage of parents have refused to have their children tested under the scheme -- and those children are not allowed to return to school.

The other 1.5 million tests were carried out at more than 500 dedicated centres, around 900 pharmacies and roughly 1,000 companies.

"Our strategy is to have a high frequency of tests and to make them very easily accessible -- it's the only way to keep the pandemic in check," Katharina Reich, the health ministry's chief medical officer, told AFP.

A negative test result, no older than 48 hours, is now required at a range of locations -- from hair salons to elderly care homes, or ski resorts.

The seven-day average of daily tests is 24 per 1,000 in Austria, compared to 7.7 in Britain and just 1.77 in neighbouring Germany, according to the Our World In Data website.

"But we want that to be higher -- much higher," Reich said, explaining that the goal is "for 60 to 70 percent of the population to get tested at least twice a week, or even three times a week if they want to see risk groups, like the elderly."

She says tests are a key weapon in the fight against the pandemic until the vaccine rollout has been completed.

From March 1, every person will be allocated up to five "living-room" antigen tests, so called because they only require a shallow swab of the nasal cavity and so can be done at home.

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