Austria starts mass virus screening against experts’ advice


The mass testing of the Austrian population for the novel Coronavirus started on Friday, in spite of  misgivings by scientific government advisors.

Long queues formed at screening centres as testing was launched in Vienna and in the western provinces of Tyrol and Vorarlberg, broadcasters ORF and Oe24 reported.  Other regions are scheduled to follow in the coming days.

Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz announced the voluntary testing plan in late November, as an effort to slow down the transmission of the virus.

If several million of Austria’s 8.9 million inhabitants get tested, authorities can find and isolate many COVID-19 patients who do not show symptoms, he argued.

However, “a significant number of scientific advisors’’ have told Health Minister Rudolf Anschober that they oppose the plan, according to records of a recent meeting.

They warned that negative tests would give people the wrong idea that they will be able to celebrate a normal Christmas holiday with relatives in late December just like in other years.

The experts also worry about false results from the rapid test kits that are being used.

Instead of screening the general population, the experts would prefer a focus on specific high-risk groups, and a stronger effort to track down those who have come into contact with infected persons.

The screening in Austria comes after similar efforts in Slovakia and in Italy’s South Tyrol region in recent weeks.

However, Slovakia has since started moving away from its mass approach, as it lacks the capacity for contact tracing. A wave of second tests has been postponed.

Germany does not plan to follow its neighbour Austria’s lead with mass-testing, a government spokesman said on Friday.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national agency for disease control, recommends targeted testing, a strategy which has been backed up by virologists and other experts, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin.(dpa/NAN)

– Dec. 4, 2020 @ 15:18 GMT |

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