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Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) warns against misunderstanding the end of all Corona laws he has announced by the middle of the year. “Corona will stay,” said the department head in the APA interview. He also called for the Covid booster vaccinations to be picked up and for the vulnerable to continue to be protected. At the same time, he emphasized that it was about dealing with the situation – but not in crisis mode.
Vienna. “It is wrongly written: ‘The minister will end the pandemic’ with the stroke of a pen. That is not the case,” Rauch said of his announcement last weekend that he would like to abolish all corona-related laws and regulations in the first half of 2023. The situation you have now – “thank God” – is a good one. Now the structures that were created for the crisis are being transferred “into the control system of the Austrian health system”. Corona will “not disappear”, “Corona will stay”. The conditions would now be created so that one can live with it in the long term. There will always be times when there are more illnesses. Then it is important to “deal with it cleverly and carefully” – but no longer in crisis mode.
“Because Corona will just stay”
“You can’t make a stroke of the pen and then everything is over and just like before,” said Rauch. “Because it won’t be the same as before. Because Corona will just stay.” You have to find a way to deal with it. In any case, the booster vaccination will remain, which is then “ideally” picked up together with the influenza vaccination.
The minister was reluctant to comment on the view expressed by some scientists – such as the virologist Norbert Nowotny – that “thanks to vaccinations and good medication” Covid can now be classified similar to flu. “I’m cautious about the flu comparison. You can’t equate it 1:1. I would also warn against it,” said Rauch. Both diseases need to be dealt with separately “and we do that too”.
Thin research situation at Long Covid
Long Covid is also “on screen”, with Rauch referring to the still “thin” research situation, which is constantly improving. In this regard, there is an exchange with other countries, such as Switzerland and Germany. And in Austria, Corona Commissioner Susanne Rabady has an “excellent expert” who is very committed to offering appropriate training for medical practices.
Rauch did not want to specify which measures will be abolished and when, nor whether the mask requirement in hospitals could remain in place. Prepare all this carefully and only then communicate it. “You have to talk to the federal states, contracts have to be redesigned, it has to be clarified what it means to continue to protect the vulnerable, how can vaccination be shifted from the vaccination centers to the private sector,” said Rauch, outlining the challenges. “Preparing that carefully and only then putting it on the table is my approach.” It is important to him that “uniform regulations nationwide that are clear and comprehensible”.
Vaccination remains free
What is fixed is that the corona vaccination remains free, he repeated. The minister rejected the demand by constitutional lawyer Peter Bussjäger to include a precautionary measure in the new epidemic law announced by Rauch, which can be activated “if you need it”. “The compulsory vaccination failed terrifically,” said the department head. The vaccination requirement was introduced in February 2022, but was never struck and was suspended again in March and then finally withdrawn in the summer. This procedure “polarized to such an extent and led to upheavals and destroyed our overall willingness to vaccinate,” emphasized Rauch.
Now you suffer from it, for example when parents refuse to have their children vaccinated against measles or other diseases – “due to a vaccine skepticism that has rocked up there”. That has to be repaired, he stressed. There must be a renewed awareness that vaccination is “a blessing” that protects against serious illnesses and not the belief that “this is a threat”. Because it is evident that the corona vaccination does not protect against infection, “but it protects against severe courses and against ending up in intensive care units and, in particular, older people against dying. I repeat that like a mantra.”
Smoke before a “giant task”
Rauch wants to implement the amendment to the Epidemic Act that he announced during this legislative period – i.e. by autumn 2024. Rauch pointed out that the core elements of the Epidemic Act dated back to 1913. “It was and is not suitable for being able to cope with a pandemic. That is why it was necessary to make an auxiliary law, the COVID-19 Measures Act. To get it into a ‘whole’, so to speak, is a huge task”, is Rauch aware of the challenge. In order to be ready by the end of 2024, the amendment to the law would have to be sent for assessment by the end of 2023, according to Rauch.
It should go faster – namely this year – with the “pandemic plan” that he also announced. This is supposed to be a kind of “manual”: “How do we deal with getting out of the pandemic mode from the early phase of a possible pandemic through the peak phase and then again”.
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