Vienna’s hospitals are close to the level of strain from COVID-19 reached last autumn that forced a lockdown to be imposed, Austria’s health minister said on Friday, days before a decision on whether to let restaurants open outdoors.
Infections have been steadily increasing since Austria loosened its third lockdown on Feb. 8 by letting non-essential shops reopen despite stubbornly high COVID-19 cases at the time. A nighttime curfew replaced all-day restrictions on movement.
Austria has recorded 504,581 cases of the disease so far, including 8,982 deaths.
The number of new infections reported rose above 3,500 on Friday, the highest level since early December, when cases were falling during the second national lockdown. The government plans to let restaurant, cafe and bar terraces reopen on March 27, a decision it will review on Monday.
“In some regions we have a situation that I think is really alarming as far as the situation in intensive care wards is concerned,” Health Minister Rudolf Anschober told a news conference.
Of Austria’s nine provinces, the strain is greatest in Vienna and the province surrounding it, Lower Austria, as well as Burgenland, wedged between Lower Austria and Hungary, Anschober said.
“We are no longer far away from the capacity utilisation situation that we had in the autumn,” Anschober said of those provinces.
Public health agency AGES’s coronavirus dashboard shows the utilisation rate of intensive care beds is highest in Burgenland at 79%, followed by Lower Austria with 50% and Vienna on 48%.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats has called for restrictions to be tightened again, and Anschober said there may be regional adjustments.
“We must react to these regional increases and we will of course do our duty as a government, namely conduct a precise analysis over the weekend and reach a joint decision on Monday on what steps must be taken concretely,” he said.