The Coronation of Austria: Part 16

By Barbara Prainsack, Bernhard Kittel, Sylvia Kritzinger, and Hajo Boomgaarden, on behalf of the Austrian Corona Panel Project, University of Vienna, Austria [contact: coronapanel2020@univie.ac.at]

The Covid-19 situation in Austria is still serious. A re-opening of restaurants and cafes in the West of the country in mid March has resulted in a steep increase of infection rates in that region, while the situation in the rest of the country has improved slightly. The hard lockdown (including the closure of most shops) in the East of the country ends early May, and further steps of re-opening at national level are planned for the second half of May.

Some hope that the prolonged lockdown from November to May 2021 will have been the last one, and that we will be able fight the pandemic with different measures from now on. Although not everyone wants their old life back exactly as it was before Covid-19, people long for a return to routines. Previous lockdowns have broken these routines, although in different ways: During the first lockdown in spring 2020, many people spent more time sleeping, consuming media, and chatting with family and friends (often on the phone or via video chats). Less time was spent on paid work. From mid-April 2020, when restrictions were eased, media consumption declined, and time spent on paid work increased. There is, however, a striking difference in how women and men have spent their time: Throughout the entire pandemic, women spent less time on paid work and did more unpaid work than men, raising urgent questions about how the negative consequences of this situation on women can be reversed.

Staying with the topic of social and economic justice, we asked our respondents what they thought about financial support for businesses that had to close during (prolonged periods of) the pandemic, and for those that resorted to short-term work (Kurzarbeit). About 60% of our respondents considered financial support for businesses as fair in both cases.

More on money

Our new data on how well people cope (in their own view) with their financial situation shows that middle-aged people (30–65) seem to have struggled more than other age groups during the pandemic. Only 13% said their household income is sufficient for them to live comfortably. Regarding the group of under 30s, their situations seem to have been more fluid: In the period between May 2020 and March 2021, the proportion of those who reported to struggle varied between 10 and 20%. Within the group of 65 and over, the proportion of people who said they struggle with their financial situation rose slightly in the same period.

Trust in government and other institutions

We had previously reported that public support for the government and other public institutions has been on the decline since the early phases of the pandemic. This month one of the analyses based on our Corona Panel data looked into people’s expectation of opposition parties. These expectations towards parliamentary opposition parties — namely the Social Democratic Party, SPÖ, the right-wing Freedom Party, FPÖ, and the liberal NEOS — have changed in the course of the pandemic; an increasing number of people now want opposition parties to represent a critical corrective to the government rather than just support the government’s line. At the same time, the number of those who prefer the opposition to exercise restraint is still relatively high.

Who do people trust?

Of all the institutions mentioned in our surveys in the period March 2020 to April 2021, people place the highest trust in science and the healthcare system. The armed forces and the police also continue to enjoy relatively high trust ratings. Trust in parliament, the federal government and the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) has declined particularly sharply since March 2020. At the very bottom of the trust hierarchy remains the European Union, with relatively stable figures during the entire survey period.

Little support for protests against pandemic measures

Only a minority (15%) of the Austrian population supports demonstrations against anti-Covid-19 measures. Even fewer — just 11% — would take part in such a demonstration themselves, especially if it was not approved by the authorities (8%). Those who support demonstrations against pandemic measures often do so because they consider these measures unjust. We also found that they are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and that the Covid-19 risks are exaggerated. They are also less likely to get tested and vaccinated than other groups.

The testy half

While the issue of vaccination is still fraught, with criticism of the wrong societal groups being prioritised (the case of the Vienna philharmonic orchestra being but the most prominent example), the availability of fast and free testing in Austria is exemplary. In most regions of the country, free testing (either antigen and/or PCR testing) is available locally (even at home) and at no cost to citizens. Despite this, we found that half of the Austrian population took no or only one test for Covid-19 in the period of mid February to mid March 2021. Those who are more likely to believe conspiracy theories about Covid-19 were least likely to have undergone a test, as were those that believe the government exaggerates the dangers posed by the virus. Younger people, and those with higher levels of education, were more likely to have undergone testing, as well as people who used a negative test as a reason to see several people.

Overall, the willingness of the Austrian population to take a test has increased in the last months. In April 2021, almost a quarter (24%) reported having taken a test more than once a week in the four weeks preceding the survey date (this number is up from 3% in January). But the situation is still not ideal: another quarter (24%) did not take a single test in the same period, and another 29% did so only once or twice in the last four weeks. We found a clear correlation between the assessment of the effectiveness of the testing strategy and the frequency of getting tested. Interestingly, we found that people who had recovered from Covid-19 or who had received a vaccination were more likely to get tested than other groups. We believe that this is the case because vaccinated or previously infected people are more likely to work in a profession with a higher risk of infection.

Stay tuned for our next monthly update early June, when the country may have taken the first large steps towards reopening.

I'm interested in all things bioscience, medicine & society. For more on our solidarity work, see https://barbaraprainsack.wordpress.com/about/