Austrian Study Shows Coronavirus Cases More Than 3 Times Higher

(Bloomberg) --

More than three times as many Austrians were infected with the coronavirus in early April as officially reported, according to a government-sponsored survey of a random sampling. Still, the elevated numbers represent less than 1% of the country’s population.

The survey, by pollster Sora in cooperation with the Red Cross and Vienna’s medical university, tested 1,544 randomly selected Austrians for live infections by swabbing the mouth and nose.

The results indicate that 0.32% of the population, or about 28,500 people, were infected in the period around April 4-5, according to a presentation Friday by Science Minister Heinz Fassmann in Vienna. That compares with 8,500 confirmed active cases during that period. The margin of error was wide, ranging from 10,200 to 67,400 cases, or 0.12% to 0.76% of the population.

“We shouldn’t fool ourselves, the iceberg is larger than what can be seen,” Fassmann told journalists. “At the same time, the low level of infections points to a low level of immunization, which means that if we don’t continue to contain the virus, we’d return to exponential growth very quickly.”

Concern is growing over the extent of the pandemic and the role of its spread by people who show no symptoms. Regions from China to Europe are struggling to understand the nature of the disease and how it is transmitted as they try to contain existing outbreaks or prevent a second wave of infections.

Fassmann said the country would continue with similar testing in the weeks ahead, including those focused on finding antibodies in people who may have been infected, recovered and developed some immunity, even if they were asymptomatic.

Logistical impediments for such tests, such as who is allowed to take blood samples and how reliable the available tests are, made it easier to start with a test based on live infections, he said.

Luxembourg has started to roll out a similar test this week, also seeking to get a better picture of the virus’s prevalence beyond the official results. Regional tests have been done in parts of Germany, Italy and Iceland, Fassmann said.

Austria was among the early movers in Europe to try to contain the outbreak, clamping down on public life and enforcing social distancing when cases were still in the hundreds and few had died. The countrywill start to relax some of the measures next week, when small shops and hardware and gardening stores can reopen, but it will keep schools and other stores closed until May.

Austria has held the increase in new infections to less than 3% per day, and the additional cases have been outnumbered by recoveries for more than a week. The total of known infections stood at more than 13,000 Friday morning, of which 7,021 were active. A total of 319 people have died.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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