Policy responses for Austria - HSRM

Austria


Policy responses for Austria

1. Preventing transmission

The section on PREVENTING TRANSMISSION includes information on key public health measures that aim to prevent the further spread of the disease. It details how countries are advising the general public and people who (might) have the disease to prevent further spread, as well as measures in place to test and identify cases, trace contacts, and monitor the scale of the outbreak.

1.1 Health communication

Official advice on hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing was issued from the beginning of the outbreak in February 2020. The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection (Ministry of Health) provides comprehensive information on its website (www.sozialministerium.at) including general information about the virus, information about measures taken and statistical information such as number of people infected, number of people tested, number of deaths and others. An additional dashboard provided by the Ministry of Health delivers statistical data updated at regular intervals (https://info.gesundheitsministerium.at/).

Additional information and support are available for health professionals. Since the end of February, specialized telephone hotlines for questions on COVID-19 and management of suspicious cases were set up. In addition, various public online portals (see e.g. sozialversicherung.at, gesundheit.gv.at) provide information for health professionals.
Information on personal safety measures is distributed through different channels such as newspapers, radio and TV-spots. They are provided by public institutions such as public media, different ministries, health insurance institutions as well as private initiatives.
Since mid-March the government has been holding frequent press conferences on statistics, prognostics and measures. Government messaging stresses the severity of the current situation and the importance of complying with the measures.

On November 25, the strategy for vaccination against COVID-19 was published by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Starting in January 2021, people in residential care homes, health care staff, and people with co-morbidities that increase the risk of a severe form of COVID-19 (vulnerable groups) will be first in line to be vaccinated. In the second phase, foreseen between February and April 2021, people aged 65 years and older and people working in essential services (e.g., post offices, schools, security) will be vaccinated (see COVID-19 vaccination prioritisation in Section 3.1 Planning services). The strategy may be downloaded at: https://www.sozialministerium.at/dam/jcr:5ba144fa-dd9b-4697-89af-3a51cc66776b/2020_11_25%20_Impfstrategie.pdf

Covid Prognosis in Austria: weekly short-term forecasts informs Ministry of Health

A consortium consisting of experts from the Technical University Vienna / DEXHELPP / dwh GmbH, the Medical University of Vienna / Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH) and the Austrian National Public Health Institute (GÖG) was commissioned by the Austrian Ministry for Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection to conduct short-term forecasts on SARS-CoV-2 cases, hospitalisations and ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 in comparison to available hospital capacities on a weekly basis. The results inform the MoH and other relevant stakeholders at federal and regional level.
The model applied combines three complementary approaches: an agent-based simulation model, a modified SIR-X differential equation model and a state space model. The combination of these approaches allows to adapt to constantly evolving data and background information. The forecast grounds on assumptions that physical distancing measures change people's behaviour (with delay).  It is based on data from the national electronic COVID-19 reporting system (EMS, Epidemilogisches Meldesystem), where local administrative authorities document cases. The model evolved with time due to constantly improving data basis and knowledge on how and when measures taken are effective.

New forecasts are provided weekly and are publicly available on the website of the Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection: https://www.sozialministerium.at/Informationen-zum-Coronavirus/Neuartiges-Coronavirus-(2019-nCov)/COVID-Prognose-Konsortium.html 
In a preprint paper the experts from the consortium also showed that the model was able to anticipate the rise in bed occupancy in late August/September 2020 during the second wave, with ICU occupancy forecasts being more accurate than forecasts for acute care bed occupancy: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.18.20214767v2.full.pdf