This is a translation of my german article about failure of pandemic management in Austria. Wide parts of the text were translated by DeepL-Translator. Some adjustments have been necessary. You may easily spot where I wrote by myself. I’m not a native speaker.
Podcast No. 82 with Christian Drosten revealed very well the essential cornerstones of the disinformation that opponents of effective pandemic control have been peddling since the beginning. Germany is still better off than Austria overall, but many of the disinformation campaigns mentioned were much more effective in Austria than in Germany and led not only to over 9000 deaths, an unquantifiable number of Long COVID-affected people in the high five-digit range, but also to the most severe economic outcome in the EU.
Why does disinformation fall on much more fruitful ground in Austria? This is not only due to the “top-down” risk communication, in which scientists are hardly allowed to address the population directly, but also to the uniform media landscape, in which no one criticizes the strategy adopted, let alone argues in favor of NoCovid (few exceptions). Finally, the legally anchored obligation to maintain secrecy also plays a major role, as a result of which, for example, the extent of infections in the schools or the age, occupation or ethnicity of the seriously ill patients may not be disclosed to the outside world.
In addition, official secrecy and data protection tend to leak out only when migrants can be blamed unilaterally (“migrants at Semmering”, “virus reintroduced from the Western Balkans”). Disinformation is also the result of low appreciation of scientific work, which manifests itself in outdated database systems (unreliable AGES data), little international participation in COVID-19 studies and appalling knowledge of basic mathematics and physics in the general population as well es among politicians. Federalistic structures hinder the few good moves of the health minister to contain COVID-19. We hear from similar problems in other parts of the world, like Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and also the US. States with a more centralistic approach to manage the pandemic have been much more successful. Election campaigning in Vienna where a quarter of the total population of Austria lives and which is governed by the social democrats (SPÖ) in contrast to the right-wing turquoise people party (ÖVP) destroyed any chance of a quick response to rapidly rising rates of infections in autumn. The green party didn’t rule out a second lockdown before election and has been kicked out of the red-green city government, replaced by the neoliberal party (NEOS).
The following analysis is a first attempt to fathom the extent of the (targeted) disinformation:
Scientifically, the failure in Austria is based on three pillars:
- Local Patriotic Incompetence
- Epistemic Trespassing
- Ideology and conflicts of interest
These three factors will be found in every “Non-Zero-COVID” country in varying degrees and weighting. A popular killer argument to put the failure in this country into perspective is always: “All of Europe is affected.” But it is striking that we only look abroad when it is a matter of self-aggrandizement, and not to learn from their failures and not to repeat their mistakes.
There are mainly two reasons for which I wanted to make this text available for a greater public.
First…. Nobody of those who are responsible in Austria, let it be politicians in the government or opposition, trade unions or journalists as the fourth power of the state, is really interested in the reasons of failure. Some of them might be silenced by their bosses or political influence. So I want to let the world know what went wrong here anyway.
Second … there are a lot of so-called civilized western countries with more or less high economic income struggling with controlling the pandemic and you may find some similarities here. Maybe my reasonings will help you to understand what whent wrong in your own country and to find some lobbying to propose alternative choices – which can only be – to lower the rate of new infections as much as possible. You may call it zero covid, no covid, contain covid, control covid, whatever… it’s about saving as much lives as possible. Nothing less.
1. Local patriotic incompetence
This buzzword actually contains three serious grievances:
- No thinking outside of the box (valley): The growth of infections is only seen on a local scale, in one’s own community, valley, district, state or let it be Austria. Thus the fact is ignored that the virus comes from A to B via the mobility of the population and circulates between countries via commuters and travel.
- Patriotism – the tendency to overestimate oneself and be arrogant, and thus to ignore that essential mechanisms of the virus affect all people in the world equally, such as transmission routes, ports of entry into humans (ACE2 receptors), disease progression, and longterm effects. Shortcomings in infection control have a greater impact wherever large numbers of people come together. For example, if worldwide studies have long since proven that faceshields alone are virtually ineffective against infection, we do not have to continue using them for four months until we conduct our own study that comes to the same conclusion (yes, it actually happened before banning the “chin and face visors”).
- Incompetence – Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity – The mistakes repeated in the second and third wave fit perfectly to this, namely to assume that stable bed occupancy and death rates go along with stable infection incidence or would be its control. For the umpteenth time: infections take place, symptoms appear 5-10 days later, hospitalization follows a week later. Those who are lucky1 leave the hospital a week later, those who are unlucky stay there for weeks and those who are very unlucky leave the hospital in a body bag. The crucial point is the DELAY in the impact. Even an epidemiological layman like me has understood this after only a few weeks (see the sketch on 22.03.20).
1Being lucky is relative, however, as 7 in 10 hospitalized COVID patients have not recovered even five months after discharge (source). 1 in 10 die within a few months of discharge (source). While many policymakers in charge seem to equate the care of COVID-19 patients in the hospital with assembly line work in a factory, the majority of all hospitalized patients leave the hospital sick and remain unable to work for months.
Incompetence also includes the lack of preparation for a second wave in the fall and winter, when contact tracing quickly reached its limits and investments were made far too late in FFP2 masks throughout the health sector and generally in places where people come together even when they do not want to (open-plan offices and schools). At the very beginning, parks and gardens were closed off, even though it was known early on that virus concentrations are much lower outdoors than indoors. Wait – that’s not quite true, because to this day the AGES still holds to droplet infection as the main transmission route, according to which droplets automatically fall to the ground after flying 1-2m, and ventilation concepts should not actually play any role, because larger saliva droplets do not float in the air for hours and therefore no further risiks exists. With the arrival of the new variants, mainly B.1.1.7, being outside is less safe than with the wild type of the virus. But still, the risk to get infected is much lower outside than inside and people should still be encouraged to get fresh air instead of punishing young people meeting in a park.
The limited horizon also explains why the topic of Long COVID is still simmering on a low flame. In Germany, the topic increasingly appeared in the media from July, in the UK and in the USA already from May, in Austria the head of the emergency room in Innsbruck, Dr. Frank Hartig, reported for the first time at the end of April about possible consequences for divers – mainly due to damaged lungs. Isolated reports, mainly hidden behind paywalls of daily newspapers, already occurred in later spring and summer, most likely reported by tabloids of all (hearsay, I don’t usually read them myself). The coverage of LongCOVID and PostCOVID increased only at the peak of the second wave, but still nothing can be found on the pages of AGES and the Ministry of Health.
It’s even worse than I thought. The official information of the health ministry spreads fake news. Their time stamp is outdated (10.11.2020) but the contained information has been wrong anyway. The text is nearly a copy of the AGES disinformation playing down the dangerousness of SARS CoV-2. It not only compares COVID-19 with the seasonal flu but also emphasizes the risk for vulnerable and elderly people, neglecting that lots of formerly healthy people can also become severely ill or develop long covid even after mild or asymptomatic disease, not to mention the burden of neurological and psychiatric outcome in longcovid patients. Finally the author of the disinformation above uses a classic tool of PLURV (see below for explanation): Straw arguments. Not a single expert on Coronaviruses ever assumed the mortality of SARS-CoV-2 to be similar to MERS (30%), not even close. Maybe 5% after the events in Italy but rather 1-2% after adjusting for the overload of hospitals.
Incompetence also includes, among other things, the vaccination strategy of not using the full quota of highly effective mRNA vaccines, but instead relying on the cheaper vector vaccine AstraZeneca, which has fallen into disrepute due to mishandling and PR, and which has become the centerpiece of Austria’s decentralized vaccination strategy. It was clear to many countries, even populist-led ones like the US at the time still under Trump (“Operation Warpspeed”), that it was necessary to buy as many (different) vaccines as possible, because at the time, first, they did not know what the efficacy would be in reality and, second, it was clear to all that the economy would only recover permanently if herd immunity was achieved in the country and at least domestic production no longer suffered setbacks. That the EU failed here is one thing, the other is that Austria did not even want to take advantage of the reduced supply of vaccines to save money. That is simply negligent. If one of the richest countries in the world saves on the ticket out of the pandemic, then it obviously wants to “live with the virus forever” (yes, we know now that herd immunity is no longer achievable with the slow vaccine output, but the original (first) goal was also to significantly weaken the virus in its dangerousness so that the health care system would no longer be overburdened when many fall ill at the same time).
Incompetence is also not having an open-source developed, heavily promoted tracking app a year after the pandemic began. The Red Cross’ STOPP-CORONA app was never really adopted after the ÖVP threatened to make it mandatory without necessary data privacy. Incompetence includes the fact that intensive care doctors throughout Austria do not have a central bed registry, i.e., they apparently do not know how many beds individual hospitals have and how many are currently free where, including staff (in Denmark, by contrast, hospitals are digitally networked). In addition, the definition of what constitutes an intensive care bed varies from province to province.
Last but not least, incompetence is also the inability to admit mistakes, to admit them publicly and to delegate tasks that go beyond one’s own ability to organizations or people who have more expertise and experience, regardless of someone’s party affiliation or whether he or she is a native or a foreigner.
Speaking of delegating, there is a smooth transition here to ….
2. Epistemic Trespassing
„Epistemic trespassers judge matters outside their field of expertise.“BALLANTYNE (2019)
When experts outside their field presume to judge facts, for example by making clear yes/no statements, they are engaging in epistemic trespassing. They are not known as experts, but talk about it anyway. They don’t dare give journalists an uncomfortable answer: “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my colleague,” or “It’s not possible to say at the moment. The data situation is still too incomplete.”
„Notice that expertise does not entail that one can give firm answers to all of a field’s questions; there can be ‘open questions’ in a field.“
Experts know their field inside out and know what is known and what is unknown. They do not postulate facts where there is a lack of data.
One of the best-known epistemic trespasser in Austria is the head of the public health department at AGES, Franz Allerberger.
“For some reason I am listed as an expert at the World Health Organization, and therefore I am probably allowed to talk about a new coronavirus, and to make it very clear: We don’t have a single diagnosed case in the whole of Austria, which means I’m a desk jockey, coronaviruses do exist here at AGES, but only in the veterinary field. […] because hundreds, thousands of people now think they have expertise. I know, I don’t have it. And if you google somewhere and look who publishes about what, you will see Allerberger Coronaviruses zero result, so please don’t misunderstand what I’m telling you. Definitely not an expert.”
Lecture at the University of Salzburg, 12. FEBRUARY 2020
The fact that the country’s leading infectiologist is not a Corona expert, but is, among other things, deputy spokesman of the Corona Commission, sits for Austria in the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) and is chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board for Public Health Microbiology at the German Robert Koch Institute, has never been publicly questioned.
Another trespasser is the tropical physician, microbiologist and hygienist Petra Apfalter, who specializes in bacteria.
“It’s the hands, the hands, the hands! Hand hygiene is THE measure to keep infections at bay.”
Portraits of Graduates, pathogenes on the trail – for the identification of bacteria, annual report 2012 Ramsauer Gymnasium
Here is a fitting quote from virologist Dorothee von Laer:
“a bacterium is as far from a virus as a giraffe is from a worm”.
(ORF broadcasting “Im Zentrum”, 15. November 2020)
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. Apfalter downplayed from the beginning (“Coronavirus no great danger for Austria,” 23.01.20, 12.2.20), but fatal was the massive downplaying campaign in September, when the government took too long with tougher measures. Unforgotten was her striking remark “We don’t have a second wave, we have a technical lab tsunami.” (18.09.20). For some reason, she has been invited by Education Minister Faßmann to a press conference in early November, where she again publicly doubted the validity of the PCR tests and also discredited the validity of Michael Wagner’s PCR gargle tests when asked by a journalist. As a side note: In her own diagnostic laboratory Analyse BioLab, Apfalter also analyzes the four common coronaviruses, among others – with the help of gargle tests! So where does the vehement rejection of the application for SARS-CoV-2 come from?
Apfalter repeatedly advocated testing only symptomatic suspected cases, although it was already known for the first time at the end of January 2020 that the virus could be transmitted before the first symptoms appeared (Helen Branswell, 28.01.20). One of the main reasons for the introduction of the mask obligation was the protection of others as unknowing carriers of the infection. At the press conference with Faßmann, she advocated “from an infection epidemiological point of view” to keep kindergartens and schools open, although children under 10 years of age were not tested per recommendation for the health authorities. Even at this point, the data was extensive enough that the role of children could not be negated. Even if the data were disputed, the precautionary principle should have been applied – especially since it was not yet possible to assess what the infection could do to children’s bodies, even if the course was mild. At the time of the press conference in early November, MIS-C was already known.
Subjective impression: Hygiene experts have a pronounced hand hygiene fetish and attach little importance to airborne transmission (“COVID IS AIRBORNE”). Leading aerosol scientists argue with the WHO for years because, as Jose-Luis Jimenez pointed out in a commentary on July 30, 2020, there are many hygienists but not a single aerosol scientist. The fact that 239 scientists asked WHO in vain to recognize aerosol transmission in SARS-CoV-2 (not only there) shows how difficult it is to remove outdated knowledge.
Further statements by VIVs (“very important virologists”) in the course of the pandemic with epistemic trespassing, either because it was not their field of expertise or facts were postulated on the basis of insufficient knowledge – see overview page for complete sources in my citation collection (frequent update but url changes in wordpress).
- Virologist Steininger: “Coronavirus is not as dangerous as influenza” (30.01.20, Krone)
- Virologist Nowotny: “If a second wave does come, it should be much milder than the first. We know this from past pandemics” (May 2020, Animal Today).
- Public health expert Sprenger: “One thing is certain, there will be no overburden of health care with one hundred percent certainty” (22.08.20, Ö1-Journal)
- Infectiologist Wenisch: “With Corona and the children I have no fear at all, I don’t give a shit, because the children are not endangered. Corona is not a children’s disease, this is something for adults.” (06.09.20, Ö3)
- Hygienist Gattringer: “Simple measures protect against infection – top of the list is hand hygiene, plus the right sneeze and cough etiquette and a minimum distance of one meter are an effective bundle. Also the carrying of a mouth nose protection in closed areas without minimum distances is a good measure” (18.09.20, press release of Upper Austrian Ärztekammer).
- Public health expert Sönnichsen: “If testing is done without initial suspicion, even relatively accurate PCR tests lead to about one percent false positive findings.” (09/30/20, Falter Special Supplement 40a/20)
- Infectiologist Weiss: “I would like to speak out decidedly against school closures,because it has been shown that schools sort of contribute nothing to the incidence of infection.” (11/12/20, zib2)
- Microbiologist Lass-Flörl: “Recent publications show that the asymptomatic carrier does not pass on infections.” (04.01.21 Tiroler Tageszeitung)
- Laboratory physician Oswald Wagner: “The clearly more infectious British mutation of the Corona virus also requires an adaptation, i.e. extension, of the previous distance rules.” (01.16.21, Standard)
- Epidemiologist Daniela Schmid: “In month twelve of the pandemic, to seal off an entire federal state and keep the lockdown is pure prison” (16.02.21, FALTER)
- Virologist Redlberger-Fritz: “The variants have no influence for children.” (03.23.21, City of Vienna Corona Podcast)
- Virologist Christina Nicolodi: “From a virological point of view, it would be good if the lockdown comes now and lasts longer. But you also have to look at the other factors. Many have not yet done their Easter shopping, the trade was not prepared” (25.03.21, “Wien heute”).
Some virologists tend to trespass in the field of sociology or psychology, others try to hide their deficit of knowledge like claiming the more infectious B1.1.7 variant needs 2 meter distance instead of one meter or ffp2 masks instead of cloth masks. Interested laymen like me, however, know for months that one or two meter distance is less important than ventilation, because COVID IS AIRBORNE.
This is only a small selection of embarassing statements made by lots of so-called experts and advisors to the Austrian government. I could fill a book with it since the beginning of the pandemic.
3. Ideology and Conflict of Interests
Both have in common that they use PLURV to push their agenda. Conflicts of interest are the basic evil of poor pandemic control worldwide. The boundaries between ideology and conflicts of interest are fluid because the conflict zone runs primarily between business and health. In Austria, it is mainly tourism and trade that supposedly benefit from the constant relaxations, while public health loses out. It is also the interests of the federal states versus the interests of the federal government or the Ministry of Health. The respective state governors are looking more at election polls and popularity than at the warning statements of the scientists. We know this from every B-disaster movie.
Conflicts of interest arise when one’s own ego or the party to which one belongs is more important than factual politics: A few weeks ago, Vice governor of Upper Austria, Manfred Haimbuchner of the far-right freedom party (FPÖ) attended a birthday party of a newborn after which he become severely ill and later hospitalized and intubated. After waking up, he still trivilized the risk to protect his party, possibly as elections will take place in autumn. The ideological connection of these politicians is so strong, they even deny their nearly death by covid infection to continue the party’s campaign against covid measures.
3.1 Conflict of Interests
The most obvious conflict of interest arises between childcare and work. Those who have to look after their children at home because kindergartens and schools are closed are sometimes unable to go to work, either because both parents work, because home office is not possible (and often incompatible with childcare, especially when they are still very young) or because they are single mothers or fathers. The absurd thing is that both economic liberals (ÖVP, NEOS) and employee representatives (SPÖ, Chamber of Labor, trade unions) agree on this: They demand to the very end that schools – in attendance! – must remain open. Psychosocial reasons are mostly pretended, because the fact that Austria is the European leader in school bullying was of little interest to both parties beforehand. The often mentioned “triage” (under PLURV: see logic error – ambiguity) in child and adolescent psychiatry existed before in the form of bottlenecks in national health insurance therapy for children and adolescents (by the way also adults). Nobody cared two hoots about it.
To say it once clearly:
It is the opinion of ALL scientists that schools should be closed last! Scientists also agree that schools closed for months are not only detrimental to their education, but due to the lack of social contacts, depending on the phase of their childhood and puberty, have longterm effects, like depression, loneliness, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.. It is equally clear, however, that children are afraid of becoming ill themselves or of infecting their family members and friends. Children of members of the vulnerable groups are aware of this. Even 14 days of quarantine is anything but pleasant, especially if it happens repeatedly, because there are always suspected cases or classmates or teachers who test positive. Isolation of the child in his own household? Unimaginable and difficult to implement.
The easiest way to prevent children from becoming carriers or (less frequently) becoming severely ill is to reduce the incidence in the community, i.e., if the number of cases is low and protective measures are implemented consistently, it is easier to keep schools open than to open them when the incidence is high and there are gaps in the protective measures (inaccurate and inadequate tests, inadequate K1/K2 definition, no mandatory masks in elementary schools, lack of ventilation concepts, no CO2 monitoring, etc.). Austria did it in September and again in February – by the way, regardless of the evidence of rising numbers in children and adolescents. Later corrections could and should have been made, but where were the social partners?
“If we care about children, the vulnerables and the elderly, then we have to do without certain things. Then you don’t go to a bar or a disco for a change, and you forgo the cruise or the gym.”
Mikrobiologist Michael Wagner, Press Conference on 17. August 2020, analogously
Skeptics and opponents of the NoCovid strategy usually claim that lockdown fanatics want to close the schools, whereas it is the other way around, they want to avoid that the case numbers become so high that the schools have to be closed! However, in order to do that, society must be willing to do without. This means that travel and ski tourism must remain closed, and adult mobility must be restricted. Any loosening debates about gastronomy and culture are void – children are priority. I write this as a childless person. I am willing to do without and did not take advantage of the “business travel” loophole either, or flew against reason to other continents with more lax measures to enjoy my vacation and accidentally brought home new, dangerous virus variants. I didn’t go home, although I could have with lots of vacation time and quarantine time. I didn’t even ride public transportation for long periods of time to go to hiking destinations, and I didn’t go to shopping malls. Unfortunately, the months of abstinence didn’t pay off because too few in the country think that way. Too many didn’t want to give up their skiing vacation, not even for a season, too many can’t resist waiting until it gets significantly warmer to hold that birthday, company, family or neighborhood party until it could be done a little less riskily (B117 is unfortunately more contagious even outdoors).
The unwillingness to back down out of solidarity with the weaker and the community as a whole can be found in politics as well as among the population. When the government and opposition then say: OWN RESPONSIBILITY, it is clear that egoism is thereby legitimized. When in doubt about a conflict of interest, the citizen decides in favor of his own interests.
Conflicts of interest are not always clearly justifiable. What I find most contradictory is the role of pediatricians in the pandemic – worldwide. The small, loud minority always suggests that children would not play a role in the infection process, and the more frequent the number of studies becomes that prove the opposite, the more they resort to terms that are epidemiologically uncommon. “Yes, they play a role, but they are not drivers.” or “They are part of the infection event, but not the index case.”
PLURV logic error also includes a classic: “drawing wrong conclusions from correct” information (see DAY 239).
For example, the ÖGKJ (Austrian Society for Children and Adolescents) recommended that children under 10 years of age and those with symptoms without fever should not be tested. Children in the class band should be classified as K2 (contact person with a lesser risk to become infected) per se. The association cited the ECDC and CDC with retrieval in mid-August; the recommendation itself was from late October. All four sources cited had important limitations in what they said about the role of children: Neither said not to test children under 10 years of age, nor to adhere to the arbitrarily chosen threshold of 15 minutes on contact. One article noted that school clusters are difficult to detect since infection is often asymptomatic. One article even strongly recommended testing asymptomatic children if the incidence in the region is moderate to high.
Why does an association that is supposed to be there for the welfare of the child twist scientific statements and pick out what fits the basic statement “children play no role in the infection process”? I am still in the dark about the reasons for this, because in my opinion the physical health of the child itself and that of its closest caregivers are also part of the child’s well-being. The purpose of the factual clutter is clear: Schools and kindergartens should be able to remain open as long as possible, which is very convenient for the economic representatives. However, the logic errors become particularly perfidious when the AGES cluster analyses are used to “prove” that children would not play a role – how could they, if they are not recommended to be tested!!!
Sometimes, however, the conflicts of interest are not even that obvious, for example when it comes to public statements by experts who are involved in private companies that receive contracts or subsidies from the state.
When it came to locking up Tyrol, the Tyrolean experts waved it off. For example, Ralf Herwig (HG Pharma boss), who insinuated to virologist von Laer that there had been a misunderstanding in the sequencing results and that only the conspicuous samples had been sent to her. 75 cases had been confirmed, 5 were still active. 10 days later, there were 318 cases, of which 142 were active. So von Laer’s alarm was justified after all.
Herwig works closely with the state of Tyrol by providing his company LAB TRUCKS for PCR testing. Among other things, the company offers a drug that claims to be able to cure autism with vitamin D. Autism experts also wave it off: you can’t get more ballyhoo than that. So if Herwig’s opinion happens to coincide with that of the state of Tyrol, critical journalists might ask him if that has anything to do with the fact that he happens to work with the state of Tyrol?
Microbiologist Apfalter works in the management of the diagnostic laboratory Analyse BioLab and has already made statements such as “Gargling should be absolutely rejected.” (see above). PCR testing for SARS-CoV2 is also in her list of services. She is also a member of the expert group of “Arznei und Vernunft,” a project of the umbrella organization of Austrian social insurance, pharmaceutical companies, the Austrian Medical Association and the Chamber of Pharmacists. Like Allerberger, she also sits on the ECDC as a member for Austria. The line of the (provincial) government is that children do not play a role – but the gargle study repeatedly showed that children were infected at a similar rate as adults (teachers!).
Others admit their conflict of interest at least …
“Christoph Steininger is more optimistic – although, as he himself admits, somewhat biased: If enough people in Vienna took part in the PCR gargle testing campaign “allesgurgelt,” in which he himself is involved as a virologist, then the capital could save itself an extension of the lockdown.“
Conflicts of interest naturally arise simply from not collecting necessary data in the first place because it would bring unpleasant truths to light. Are schools and workplaces really safe? Whether it’s Wagner’s gargle study, which was delayed until the start of school, or the failure to link new infections to occupational groups. If we knew where infections were occurring more frequently, we could initiate countermeasures or adapt existing measures in a targeted manner. Why isn’t there a CO2 measuring device in every classroom? Why aren’t companies with offices required to carry out regular CO2 measurements? Why is the public not allowed to know which schools and kindergartens are affected by clusters? In a country with more respect and appreciation for migrants, ethnicity in infections and illnesses could be used to improve infection control in the workplace, as could time off without risk of dismissal and multilingual information to better protect oneself.
The social partnership and trade unions are failing when it comes to testing strategy:
“Testing in operations is not a mere part of “testing strategy.” Companies are central to this, especially from a network theory perspective. They are hubs like schools because they connect many families/”households.” This is also told by a look at commuting, the most central and also largest mobility factor, larger than shopping and also leisure activities (apart from travel waves that are currently not happening anyway).”
Source: Epidemiologist Robert Zangerle, 06.04.21
As a matter of principle, I would like to appeal to my readers to always question the motives: Cui bono? Nothing is as frowned upon in Austria as open dissent. Just don’t make a fuss, stay in line if possible, don’t be blunt. Whenever the statements of experts coincide with those of state or federal politicians, which at the same time contradict those of serious scientists at home and abroad, one should become alert.
Not necessarily every “in line” is intentional. Recently, I stated whether one would find it normal that in Austria scientists, doctors or, to some extent, private individuals are not allowed to openly warn about the health catastrophe we are in because they are afraid of losing their jobs or ruining their careers. Just as teachers were not allowed to talk openly about the fact that contagions were happening all the time at school. Or conflicts of interest exist between journalists or their editors-in-chief with generous advertising subsidies, or the chancellor regularly calls the editorial offices to influence what’s said about him in articles.
Probably the most sensitive point is the question of intent. Should we be deliberately contaminated? Was there never any intention to contain the virus to such an extent that the incidence of infection could be permanently brought under control? Were we deliberately misled about the extent of the disease (healthy people with severe courses, Long COVID, underestimation of death rates), the role of children, and the availability of free beds in hospitals to keep raising the pain threshold?
“It therefore was taken painstakingly accurate to ensure that there were always enough free beds in the intensive care units. As long as this was the case, the authorities and the government were able to placate and reject criticism of the Swedish special way.”
Source: “FOCUS: Schwere Vorwürfe gegen Schwedens Corona-Politik”, 11.10.20
Thanks to Semiosblog (real-time updates) and Momentum, we know that Austria is copying the Swedish Way 1:1. And it works: Still a vast majority of people think there are enough free beds and situation can’t be so bad. People like my constantly warning are referred to as being hysterical, oversensitive, extremely cautious or just as Cassandra.
In an already polarized world, there is no compromise when it comes to fighting viruses. Either you gain control or you lose it. Approaches to pandemic management go through either the Great Barrington Declaration or the John Snow Memorandum, tailored to Europe by the Priesemann paper.
Great Barrington says roughly what we’ve been hearing through the “we have to live with the virus” faction for the past year: Protect the old/weak, let the rest of society continue to live as normally as possible. Except that you can’t protect the old/weak with high incidence and the “rest of society” can get just as badly sick from high viral loads. Great-Barrington results without countermeasures in a sort of genocide: Brazil and with half-hearted countermeasures to a clear excess mortality. John Snow says the opposite: only low incidences reduce risk and economic damage for all. People who are constantly afraid of becoming infected do not like to go shopping or go on vacation. Add to that the high follow-up costs of illness and quarantine.
3.2.1 Swedish Way as a role model for the AGES
All right, then let’s take a look at what role models AGES has:
At ECDC, the chair of the Auditee Committee is a certain Johan Carlson. Carlson was hired alongside epidemiologist Anders Tegnell by Johan Giesecke, Tegnell’s predecessor. The inventor of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) Martin Kulldorff sent Tegnell (in CC: Giesecke) an email where he thanked him for promoting the “Swedish Way” all over the world (source: publicly available correspondence in Sweden).
Tegnell was already a supporter of herd immunity through natural contagion long before GBD, expressing the suggestion in an email on March 14, 2020,
“a point would speak for keeping the schools open to reach herd immunity faster”
Tegnell mentioned another advantage:
“If children don’t go to school their parents need to stay at home and we know of economic calculations that have been given to us that then about 20% of the workforce disappears from the Swedish work market”
The circle is complete: The conflicts of interest between politicians and business representatives described above.
Giesecke gave an interview in Belarus, and this sentence was uttered:
“Almost everyone in the world will get coronavirus one way or another.”
Sounds familiar? Allerberger on October 25, 2020 in Ö3:
“Everyone of us will get it sooner or later, unless he dies first.”
One thing is clear: Carlson was behind Tegnell’s contagion strategy (source).
3.2.2 Swedish Way as a Role Model for Brazil
Brazil has also adopted the Swedish way, there was an exchange of experiences with Sweden via a webinar with Tegnell on April 22, 2020:
“We are not really thinking that we ever can get rid of it in Sweden. We need to find a way to live together with it.”
Tegnell talked about Sweden being able to flatten the curve. They would have had at least 20% of ICU beds free at any given time. He did not comment on the fact that nursing home residents were never hospitalized, that Stockholm Field Hospital never had patients due to staff shortages. He generously rounded the number of ICU beds to 2000, actually 500 at most, and claimed that Sweden had already achieved 20-30% immunity. Children would hardly be contagious and could not pass on the virus. (Source)
In a second video of 07 May 2020, he began to talk about the high number of dying elderly, but did not mention that the beds were kept free by instructing nursing homes not to send anyone to the hospital. He reported very few cases among children, but did not comment on the fact that they were not testing children, even in school, when school personnel died. Tegnell recommended no masks, just stay home if you were sick – ignoring the asymptomatic/presymptomatic spread.
Some of this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Another characteristic of GBD supporters is the right-wing political bias:
„He blamed immigrants on several occasions!! Tegnell is in essence the supporter of GBD ideas and John Ioannidis ideas. Please stop romanticising. It has failed miserably! First they said it was the fault of nursing homes, then too many old people, then immigrants.“
KATRIN RABIEI, MD PHD, Neurosurgeon
A nice analysis of Anders Tegnell’s rise and fall can be found here.
3.2.3 Ideologic background of Allerberger
Allerberger showed his political stance in several lectures and interviews:
“According to AGES analysis, Austrian infection numbers are largely due to migrants with roots in the Western Balkans or Turkey.” (Profil, 7/27/20)
“The Serbian employes stacking the shelves, who eat lunch together in the social room poorly ventilated in the very back, small room, naturally infect each other because they talk in the mother tongue.“
“When I did my public health training at John Hopkins [USA], I was frustrated because in all the examples they didn’t calculate between apples and pears like we learn in elementary school in Austria, but between blacks and whites. I never quite understood that, because the blacks I know, practically everyone has a white great-grandfather or something white in them.”
(both Primary Care Congress Graz, 22.09.20)
This is only an excerpt of it. In the above-quoted lecture at the University of Salzburg, the terms “Schreibtischtäter”, “Blutauffrischung” and “our Bergen-Belsen concentration camps” were also mentioned – suggesting NS terminology.
Critics of my fact-checks having Austrian migration background are bothered by the fact that I overemphasize everyday racism in Allerberger. However, it explains on the one hand the closeness in content to Tegnell, who also makes disparaging remarks about migrants, and on the other hand also why AGES does not call for any preventive measures to protect or educate people who live in cramped living conditions and often have precarious jobs.
Wait a minute, Allerberger is not the head of AGES, but only the head of the Public Health Section. He was given this position in 2003 under the then ÖVP-FPÖ coalition. The Minister of Health was Rauch-Kallat (ÖVP), and her State Secretary was Reinhart Waneck, FPÖ. The latter was a member of the “Akademische Verbindung Wartburg”, which belongs to the WKR.
The current managing director of AGES, Thomas Kickinger, was given this post under Health Minister Beate Hartinger-Klein (FPÖ) and is a member of the “Oberösterreicher Germanen Wien” fraternity, which also belongs to the WKR. The DÖW (Dokumentation des Österreichischen Widerstands) classifies the fraternity as right-wing extremist. The current head of the Supervisory Board, Arthur Kroismayr, also belongs to this fraternity. He is also the FPÖ vice mayor of Regau.
Other members of the AGES:
Renate Haider was deputy party chairwoman of “Team Kärnten,” switched to the FPÖ in 2017 and was also appointed to the supervisory board by Hartinger-Klein in 2018. Gabriele Jell-Wiesinger has been active at AGES since 2002. She was deputy FPÖ district leader in Liesing and was expelled from the FPÖ in 2013 for “party-damaging behavior.” In 2017, she became head of internal auditing at AGES.
I have been thinking all along why AGES as an agency does not distance itself from Allerberger or simply replace him with someone who is more in line with the scientific consensus. There you have the answer.
In the Anschober portrait in FALTER by Barbara Tóth, it became clear that Allerberger and Anschober have regular professional exchanges:
“Allerberger and he [Anschober] are connected by the regular corona test, which the doctor performs on the minister personally. In the ten minutes until the result is in, they exchange ideas, in private. “There’s often time for the expert discussion. Consultation also means listening to different assessments and forming your own opinion from them.“
Anschober hereby reveals a fundamental error of thinking:
“Science is not the opinion of the smartest person, but a mesh of facts that support each other.” (Physicist Florian Aigner, 8/22/20)
Official secrecy prevents us from viewing the correspondence between Tegnell and Allerberger, as is the case in Sweden. Allerberger expressed himself more flippantly in the Ö3 interview on 25.10.20:
“after this winter, we will only see if you still have to go through a second season, and if the problem has then been settled naturally.”
That does sound a lot like contagion by natural infection.
“If a virus is really widespread, […] I assume that the natural virus could also bring a booster effect.” (04.01.21, press conference)
At the Feb. 22, 2021 health committee meeting, when Allerberger was nominated by the FPÖ, he said:
“One must have the courage to consciously accept a certain residual risk. In his opinion, paralyzing economic life and the education system was not necessary, and he also considered openings in the catering industry to be possible.”
We now know what this residual risk led to when, as was the case on April 1 at the Floridsdorf Clinic, the average age of intensive care patients is between 40 and 45. On April 4, 2021, level 8 of 8 was activated in Vienna, 224 intensive care beds occupied.
Allerberger’s “certain residual risk” is low – he was already vaccinated with Pfizer in February.
I’m only scratching the surface here, my research has been going on for months now and I simply don’t have the time to summarize it all. For the time being, I’m content to bring a few selected examples for PLURV – and will limit myself to Allerberger (although these examples would exist just as well for Schmid or Weiss or other so-called experts playing a dominat role advising province or federal governors).
Pseudo-experts: John Ioannidis. Allerberger repeatedly refers to the underestimated Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of the flawed Stanford study.
Straw argument: mortality much lower than MERS (up to 30%). Except: no one ever assumed that the mortality rate for Covid19 would be as high as for MERS. The rhetorical truck downplays the risk.
Misrepresentation: “At the end of the day, this mortality data is the only thing that matters to a public health expert like me.”, “Since the Corona crisis, it’s been hitting snags in many countries, and that means excess mortality. In Austria, so far, it’s not doing that. That’s the only thing you can measure our work by,” Allerberger says. The expected catastrophe has not occurred so far, he adds.” (Standard, 01.08.20 or Die Zeit, 27.07.20).
A very narrow definition of public health, the WHO says: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Again, a rhetorical trick, because the preventive measures he has repeatedly criticized (lockdown, school closures, mandatory masks) have prevented the disaster (prevention paradox).
“The majority of Austrians, certainly 90%, are still fully susceptible to this pathogen, a pathogen that is nowhere near as bad as we feared.“
“I myself don’t have sleepless nights because of Covid, because after 8 months we know that this disease doesn’t have this importance that was originally given to it.“
“we’re going to have a problem if everyone gets infected too quickly at the same time, even though the disease is nowhere near as bad as people thought it was ten months ago.”
Eight or ten months, what does that matter….?
“Yes, and most importantly, this number of people affected is significantly lower than we believed.” (about Long COVID)
“Always depicted are these curves where the lockdown is called and then two weeks later the curve starts to tilt. But that’s the curve with the lab diagnostic results. The thing that matters to us is the date where people got sick.”
The royal we aside (inflated minority), the pre/asymptomatic transmissions are underplayed here (parallel to Tegnell).
“Except, and here’s the bright side, as it stands, it does seem that, as a rule, a healing of these signs of illness does occur, so the longer we know the illness, the more we see that there are NO particular problems here.“
Strange conclusion in late October, when it became increasingly clear that long covid or post-covid would be a particular problem
(Ö3, 25.10.20, Transkript)
Allerberger estimates the immunity of the population at 30%. The reason for this assumption was the Ischgl study, which he already mentioned in the Ö3 interview, because it exactly matched Ioannidis’ calculated mortality. The only thing is that the physical condition of mountain villagers cannot be transferred one-to-one to the average Austrian. Statistics Austria and simulation researcher Popper arrived at a maximum of 12-15%.
Making claims without confirmation
“I believe that not only those immune with antibodies, but also those who have cellular immunity, which we currently can not even detect“
“The fact that the neighboring country is so affected has two reasons, according to the experts: One is the particularly strong tourism from China and close economic ties. In addition, according to Franz Allerberger of AGES, there is the proximity to Africa, where the virus is much more widespread than officially stated.” (ORF, 03.03.20)
“For states such as Kosovo or Bulgaria, Allerberger now assumes an infestation rate towards 50 percent.” (Profil, 07/27/20)
“On the other hand we see that this target, we talked about it earlier, we need up to 80% contagion before really this herd immunity comes, that should be, for whatever reason, much lower the threshold” (Kurier daily, 14.09.20)
Oversimplification (ignoring different causes):
“Respiratory catarrh is no longer considered a sign of disease. You shouldn’t think of covid there, you should think of other things: Allergy or rhinovirus rhinitis.”
Mass of pseudo-experts:
“There is, and the European Disease Agency is right about this, no evidence that the widespread rolling out of FFP2 masks really provides much benefit. On the other hand, winter is not over yet not over, we need to take action, and we know from the medical field how effective FFP2 masks can be. I think it’s worth trying.” (zib2, 03.02.21)
First, he himself sits in the ECDC just like the other GBD supporters Carlson, Tegnell or Apfalter, and second, this is also a rhetorical trick he brought in the Ö3 interview:
“but we have many things in medicine, if we now start to do only what can be medically proven, think of the whole homeopathy, think of Bach flower therapy, so there I would be very careful, if everything is suddenly now questioned.“
That is quite perfidious rhetoric, which he operates there: He names a renowned institution such as the ECDC, which would see no benefit, and thus devalues the FFP2 mask obligation as a “shot in the dark” without tenable evidence. The homeopathy comparison is similar. He compares the benefits of masks to homeopathy, thereby devaluing masks. At the same time, he signals agreement to the skeptical listener: “We’re trying something there for which there is no evidence.”
In sum, it can be said that Allerberger has adopted Tegnell’s rhetoric on many points. The GBD supporters meet in their common motto “we have to live with the virus” (PLURV: ambiguity – yes, of course we have to live with it, but only after the virus loses its terror through vaccination). Allerberger repeatedly refers back to Ioannidis and, together with him, still publishes articles which consider re-infections to be rare, but ignore the new variants. Weiss, Lass-Flörl and Schmid, as well as Apfalter and the Upper Austrian Medical Association, follow the same line.
In my eyes, the Swedish way is unmistakably reflected in the Austrian way:
The systematically under-tested children, the infinite reservoir of free intensive care beds, the aversion to the mask requirement, the ignorance of aerosols, the downplaying of mutants (update, on 22.03. the increased mortality in B.1 .1.7 was admitted for the first time) including information on the AGES website, some of which is months old, the insistence on only testing or counting symptomatic individuals, the downplaying of the mortality rate in younger people, the downplaying of the extent of Long COVID. In addition, there is a lack of preventive measures in schools and workplaces. AGES does not even recommend masks itself, but refers to ECDC, RKI, etc – institutions where he is involved, by the way.
The conclusion is obvious:
The more effective the measures, the more difficult it will be to achieve herd immunity through natural infection. We should have said goodbye to the “flatten the curve” approach by summer at the latest, when the extent of post and long COVID affected people became known, and by autumn at the very latest, when the breakthrough in vaccination became apparent. Why would anyone want to contaminate a population with unforeseen and potentially difficult-to-treat consequences for the entire population, including children, when multiple vaccines are within reach?
The folk ideology of individuals such as Allerberger (or Tegnell) probably does not carry much weight in the face of overwhelming conflicts of interest. More serious are the consequences in Brazil, where, thanks in part to Swedish advice, the pandemic got out of control and led to a genocide that is still ongoing. Chancellor Kurz was happy to make use of xenophobic resentments supplied by Allerberger, for example with the virus “coming by car” and that Austria had brought the virus back into the country with migrants from their countries of origin.
Daniela Schmid, AGES, expressed more restraint in the German “Zeit” on 7/27/20 than her boss Allerberger did on the same day in the Austrian “Profil.”
“When an outbreak affects a particular ethnic or religious community, complete transparency is always tricky. After all, we Austrians have already proven x times in our boastful past that people are immediately stigmatized and discriminated against.“
Why, then, was the attitude nevertheless set with migrants? At the very least, this shows that the content is close to that of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), which Allerberger has quoted on numerous occasions on FPÖ Facebook accounts, in right-wing extremist magazines and in parliament.
In my opinion, this alone would cause a solid outcry in many well-known daily newspapers in Germany and trigger a heated debate in parliament. In Austria, however, everyday racism is … well, every day, part of the daily political business.