Toward a "new normal"
The lack of medical personnel in hospitals and retirement homes is a known problem in Austria, but the country has nonetheless been able to rely on a particularly well-prepared healthcare system in this crisis. According to a study by the OECD and the European Commission, public health expenditure totaled €3,900 per capita in 2017 - that is, €1,000 more than the European average. As a share of GDP, public health expenditure amounts to 10.4% compared to an EU average of 9.8%. Austria invests more than its neighbors in hospital treatments and has an especially high number of doctors and hospital beds. In fact, Austria is second in Europe - after Germany - in terms of the number of intensive care beds per 100,000 inhabitants (28.9 in Austria compared to 33.3 in Germany and 16.3 in France). On April 3, the Austrian Minister of Health announced that with almost 1,000 intensive care beds and 3,000 ventilators available, there was no risk of overcrowding in the country’s hospitals. As in Germany, the resilience of the healthcare system means that Austria can now accommodate French and Italian patients.
On April 6, the Minister of Health announced that the contamination curve had flattened over the two previous weeks, and chancellor Sebastian Kurz presented Europe’s first national crisis exit strategy. Small businesses, DIY and gardening stores were allowed to open again from April 14 onward. Other shops, malls and salons have been open since May 1, while hotels and restaurants should reopen mid-May. Working from home and restricted travel remained the norm until the end of April. The government also reserved the right to assess the impact of these measures over the course of April and to re-establish stricter containment measures should the epidemic resume.
This progressive revitalization of movement and activity is accompanied by measures defined by the Chancellor as the "new normal". The wearing of masks has been compulsory in Austrian supermarkets since March 30; on April 14, this obligation was extended to all stores as well as public transportation.
As in other European countries, Austria faces a shortage of masks, which has forced several industries to reorient their production lines to the manufacture of personal protection equipment. On April 4, the Conservative Minister of the Economy announced the large-scale production of "Made in Austria" masks by a consortium tasked with producing 100,000 masks a day, and called on everyone capable of sewing to contribute to this new national industry.
Alongside the compulsory wearing of masks, Austria’s exit plan relies on mass screening. The country benefits from an availability of rapid tests, produced mainly by the biotech company Procom Cure which is based in Salzburg and supplies over 100,000 tests to laboratories across the world each day. That said, the government’s desire to test "the entire population" is still hampered by the limited capacity of Austrian laboratories.