A fortnight ago, the Austrian government made it mandatory for people above the age of 14 to wear medical-grade FFP2 masks in public transport, hospitals, shops and other establishments from January 25. Following the announcement, the Party of Labor of Austria (PdA) initiated a petition demanding that the government ensure the free distribution of FFP2 masks across the country. The Communist Party of Austria (KPO) also demanded sufficient availability of FFP2 masks and setting a price cap under 50 cents to avoid profiteering from the sale of the compulsory masks.
The Austrian government announced its decision in the wake of a fresh spike in COVID-19 infections in the country. As of January 27, 408,781 COVID-19 cases were reported in Austria with 7,564 deaths. Austria started it’s COVID -19 vaccination drive on December 27. By January 27, 153,859 people or 1.73% of the population had received the first dose of the vaccine. Austria has so far received vaccines from BioNTech/ Pfizer and Moderna. Vaccines from AstraZeneca and Janssen are also likely to be approved by Austrian authorities.
Zeitung der Arbeit reported that in States like Tyrol, several private clinics are also receiving the vaccine doses while the public hospitals have received a much lower number of doses than required. It has been also reported that at places, local politicians have skipped the queue and secured their injections ahead of more vulnerable sections of the population.
In its petition, the PdA stated, “we consider it to be social marginalization if these expensive FFP2 masks are not made available by the state in sufficient numbers free of charge. Everyone has to go shopping, just like going to the doctor when you are sick. Access to these facilities must therefore be guaranteed for everyone.”
“It is important to draw attention to this problem in order not to shift the burden of the crisis on the working class and the low-income sections of those living in Austria. The state, which is responsible for the previously amateurish corona policy, must take over the acquisition and distribution of the FFP2 masks,” the PdA added.
The Styrian Committee of the KPO demanded that a price cap be set for FFP2 masks, stating that “our health is not a money printing machine! Safety for everyone instead of maximum profits for few.”
Niklas Bock from Communist Youth of Austria(KJO) told Peoples Dispatch that “the Austrian government decided to extend the nationwide lockdown but keep ski-areas open.” He said that this contradictory policy by the business-friendly government of Sebastian Kurz shows the reckless way in which the government is handling the crisis.
He said that while the masks were made mandatory, there are concerns about its availability and pointed out that the poor handling of the crisis had led to mobilizations in the streets of Austria which were unfortunately being led by fascists and conspiracy theorists with antisemitic views. “The neoliberal and racist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) is using these protests and is gaining support again after major corruption affairs and a landslide loss in the last national election,” he said.
Talking about the vaccination process, Bock said it was still proceeding slowly and at this pace, it could take a couple of years. All these developments have led to more calls for the resignation of the government from across the political landscape, he said.