Austria Orders Domestic Border Checks to Halt Mutation’s Spread

Austria is imposing internal border controls to slow an alarming surge of infections from a vaccine-resistant coronavirus mutation.

People in Tyrol will be subject to mandatory testing if they want to leave the Alpine province sandwiched between Germany in the north and Italy in the south, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said at a press briefing on Tuesday. The province’s Schwaz district has become the European epicenter for a South African variant of the disease that some studies suggest make inoculations produced by AstraZeneca Plc less effective, Kurz said.

“If the mutation spreads beyond the district of Schwaz and beyond Tyrol to Austria, it would be an absolute nightmare,” Kurz told reporters. “About 50% of the vaccinations we’ll get are from AstraZeneca, and if their efficacy is diminished, this throws us back months.”

Almost 500 confirmed and suspected cases of the South African mutation have been detected in the region, virologist Andreas Bergthaler of the Medical University of Vienna reported on Monday. Just a year ago, the Tyrolean ski resort of Ischgl was one of the first big coronavirus superspreading events in Europe, causing thousands of infections from Germany to Iceland and Norway.

Austria will also begin cracking down on owners of second homes in the ski region who ignore travel warnings, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said at the same briefing. The new measure takes effect Friday.

Kurz urged Austrians to step back from polarizing debates that have become “too emotional” in recent weeks. Viennese officials have chided their Tyrolean counterparts over images of crowded ski slopes and reports over lackadaisical enforcement measures. Tyrol has shot back with its own critique of social distancing in Austrian capital’s subway system.

The new measures were issued a day after Austrians across the country were allowed back into stores following more than a month of lockdown. Schools in the eastern part of the country also reopened on Monday, with the west due to follow next week. Virologists from Tyrol have been urging authorities since last week to consider imposing a quarantine on the region.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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