More than 500 dedicated centers, 900 pharmacies and a thousand companies offer free tests to citizens. Negative tests are essential to go to the hairdresser or to an EMS.
Austria, caught off guard in the fall by the second wave, has this time taken the lead: with 3 million tests per week, half of which in schools, this small country is now establishing itself as a champion of the exercise.
More than 500 dedicated centers, 900 pharmacies and a thousand companies offer free coronavirus screening (PCR and antigens), while all the students submit to the ritual themselves, twice a week.
The approach had initially met little echo when the first sites had been set up, in full containment of December: “mass tests without crowd”, headlined the newspapers. But it accelerated in early February, when restrictions were eased, and attitudes began to change, by necessity. Because it is now necessary to present a negative test of less than 48 hours at the hairdresser, in certain ski resorts or at the entrance of retirement homes.
“Two, three times a week”
“Our strategy is to have a high frequency of tests and to make them easy to access,” Katharina Reich, chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health, told AFP. “This is the only way to keep the pandemic under control,” she says, as the variants are worrying and vaccination is only taking small steps.
Austria administers 24 daily tests per 1,000 inhabitants (on the average of the last 7 days), against barely 5 in France and less than 2 in Germany, which places it in the leading pack at the world level, according to estimates. from the Our world in data analysis site. “We want to go even higher,” insists Katharina Reich, cherishing the hope that “60 to 70% of the population of 8.9 million inhabitants is tested two or even three times a week”.
In addition to this large-scale device, residents will be able to obtain tests to be carried out at home from March 1. “This is our second weapon in the fight against Covid-19, while waiting for the majority of the population to be vaccinated,” said the ministry official.
Monika Redlberger-Fritz, head of the virology center at the University of Vienna, confirms the “importance” of regular tests, while calling for not letting your guard down: “you cannot throw yourself into the arms of your grandmother, ”she warns.
Soon at the restaurant?
This strategy, in particular in schools, is followed with interest by the Czech and German neighbors. Since the reopening of schools on February 8, children have received a kit, consisting of a simple cotton swab to twist in each nostril.
If the process, which delivers its results in 15 minutes, is not as reliable as a PCR test, it still makes it possible to limit contamination, according to the Minister of Education Heinz Fassmann, who ensures that the refractories, deprived of lessons, are very few.
In class or elsewhere, the Austrians comply willy-nilly with this obligation to regain a little freedom, against a backdrop of weariness in the face of health measures. Sasha plague at the exit of a pharmacy in Vienna. “It’s painful,” says the 21-year-old, who deplores all the time wasted to have the right to have his hair cut.
But others are more enthusiastic. “The government should generalize the idea: with my negative result, I would like to be able to go eat a meal or have a coffee with friends,” suggests Yveta Unzeitig, used to being tested in the course of her work in a house of ‘editing. “We would feel more secure and we could return to a normal life”, abounds her daughter Yvonne.
Hoteliers and restaurateurs were initially reluctant. Today they are tempted by the experience in the hope of being allowed to reopen before the Easter deadline. It remains to be seen if this costly bet will make it possible to stem the pandemic in the weeks to come, while the number of new cases remains high, beyond a thousand each day.
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