Tag Archives: coronavirus

The Pandemic (remember the pandemic? ;-))

25 Feb

The front page of the Kurier reminding us that it was three years ago today that the first coronavirus cases were detected in Austria. Things moved very fast after that. As of March 1st this year, most of the restrictions will fall. Public transportation in Vienna has been something of a holdout, still requiring FFP2 masks. Even that will no longer be the case, although a third of Kurier readers polled have said they will voluntarily continue to wear them.


Third jab

16 Dec

And in Stephansdom no less, where you don’t need an appointment.

Beyond the fact that I didn’t need an appointment, why did I choose to go to Stephansdom for my vaccination? For romantic reasons. I have never forgotten the tour I took of the catacombs very early on in my Vienna days. There are bones of Bubonic plague victims in those catacombs and I am slowly coming to accept that COVID-19 is our plague.

As a bonus to that historical connection and a beautiful setting in which to wait, an Advent meditation was starting just as I was leaving. Simple and meaningful, with a small choir and short bursts of organ music and a homily on finding room at the inn.

Stephansdom has survived plagues (and wars and reformations) and we shall, too.

The way home

I am forgetting my social graces

9 Dec

I have been in and out of a couple doctor’s offices recently and have gotten out of the habit of greeting people — “Grüß Gott” or “Guten Morgen” upon entering and “Wiederschauen” upon leaving. Must pull up my socks!

Another lockdown?

19 Nov

It’s supposed to be announced this morning whether we will go into another lockdown, Austria wide, on Monday. And our numbers are terrible. (Our 7-day average of new cases per 100k population is three times that of Germany. Three times!)

Has the vaccination made a difference? You bet it has. Last year on 18 November there were 4,525 COVID cases in hospital in Austria, including the 658 in intensive care. 113 people had died of COVID in the 24-hour period before that. And that after two weeks in a partial lockdown. This year on the same date there are 2,744 in hospital, 486 in the ICU, and 39 have died. Still too many. Still shocking in a population of about 8.9 million, but quite a different picture, especially given that most people have been out and about with only an FFP2 mask as a sign that the pandemic is still raging.

The first concert as we start to come out of lockdown

20 May
The Konzerthaus in Vienna, 20 May 2021

Thanks to the amazing generosity of a friend, I was able to go to one of the great concert occasions as we slowly and cautiously move back to going out again–the Jonas Kaufmann / Helmut Deutsch Liederabend at the Konzerthaus. What follows are just some quick impressions as it has been an exhausting week and is not over yet, but I did want to get some notes down.

The photo above shows the front of the Konzerthaus this evening, adorned with a flag that brought tears to my eyes with its jaunty text: Wir spielen! (Love the exclamation mark.) Literally that would be “We’re playing!” and essentially it means we are back in business. 🙂

The ingress was orderly and friendly even as the people at the door checked IDs, tickets, and test results. (Vienna is working on the 3-G system–gestestet, geimpft, genesen or tested, vaccinated, recovered. To take advantage of things opening up you need to fit into at least one of those groups.)

Once inside there was a kind of collective amazement at being back. Concert goers are loyal people and concert halls are often their second homes. It was like being back where we belonged.

Inside the hall itself we were very spread out, an unusual feeling for such a special concert. It may have been my imagination, but it seemed to me that many people were more dressed up than usual and many had obviously just been to the hairdresser’s. (Why waste a test? 😉 You need them for services that involve body contact, too.) Many people seemed happy to see friends again and what was really warming to see was how much pleasure the ushers expressed at seeing their regulars again.

A note in the program (below) and announced before the start of the concert laid out the rules for “the current situation”: no intermission, to only sit in your assigned seat, when leaving the hall to allow 2 meters distance (wasn’t possible even using all the exits as requested!), and the mandatory FFP2 mask at all times, even during the performance. (Friends told me that at Salzburg last summer you were allowed to take off your mask once you reached your seat but had to put it on again before starting the applause. That didn’t turn out so well. The government, however, does seem to be learning.)

This evening’s program with the rules for the “current situation”

As the doors were closed and the lights dimmed the tension tangibly rose. Then the announcement of the rules, a brief wait, and there they were! The two extremely distinguished musicians in their tailcoats (which I appreciated). The applause was relatively quiet not from a lack of enthusiasm but rather from a lack of people. For that, it went on even longer than usual, everyone was so happy to be back.

Kaufmann sang with music rather than from memory. I can’t remember if this is usual for him. Personally I would have liked at least the first (long!) ballad without the music but it’s the artist’s choice. The songs themselves were absolutely beautifully crafted and I wondered if the time spent with Deutsch during lockdown–the two almost seemed to have quarantined together–gave Kaufmann a chance to polish that. As for Deutsch, his playing, which was always exquisite, seems to have gotten even more liquid or seamless. Incredible.

The Schubert and Schumann seemed almost subdued to me; but in the Liszt, Kaufmann let his natural flair for dramatic presentation free rein and the intensity rose. At the end of the official program, in Vienna there are (almost) always a number of encores, the two artists exchanged an elbow bump and allowed the public to express its now much louder appreciation.

A very blurry photo of the two artists

Four encores and finally a standing ovation. And then we started, with a collective sigh of contentment, to leave, few thinking about distance at that moment.

The Konzerthaus is back in business! 🙂

May Day or International Workers Day 2021

1 May

Things that aren’t happening that are a reminder of the pandemic: the annual May Day parades organized by the Social Democrats, a political force to be reckoned with in Vienna. Today the street outside my window is quiet. No brass bands are playing as the loyal SPÖ members make their way to the City Hall to celebrate this international day of blue-collar workers. Instead here is at least a photo of the flags I saw on our morning walk:

March 13

13 Mar

One year ago today was the last day I stood in a seminar room facilitating a workshop with any sense of freedom. Even then the Romanians in the group were very distracted by the thought that they might not be allowed to fly home or would have to quarantine for two weeks when they got there.

Afterwards, I sat with a colleague in the otherwise empty bar at the seminar hotel. We did our usual after action review, interspersed with unsettling tidbits from a population biology course he had taken as an undergraduate, enjoying a drink in public for what we thought would be the last time for several weeks. (Ah, the innocence!)

Then we gathered up our things and went our separate ways to make sure we had food for the next few days, not knowing what the lockdown, due to start the following Monday, would bring.

Those memories highlight two facets of a year of pandemic in Austria that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit as we neared this anniversary: that what seemed unthinkable and almost insurmountable (two weeks of quarantine???) have become part of our daily lives and that no one I know foresaw how long the pandemic would go on or was prepared for the uncertainty. (I don’t number any epidemiologists among my friends.)

A year ago Austria acted quickly and decisively and had low numbers to show for it. Now our numbers are bad, although not quite as bad as the rest of Central Europe, and our vaccine rollout is pathetic. It’s anyone’s guess when life will regain any of its pre-pandemic freedom.

At least spring is coming!

The gloves are off – but the masks are on (we hope)

18 Oct

For months the public transportation authority in Vienna has been making an announcement in its vehicles along the lines of “Dear passengers, please cover your nose and mouth when in underground stations and using public transport.” (An aside: I imagined the pleasure of the translator that they were proficient enough to know that “nose and mouth” sounds more natural in English even though in German it is “Mund-Nasen-Schutz” or “mouth-nose protection / covering”.)

A day or two ago I realized that this announcement has been shortened and is now delivered in a more peremptory tone compared to the rather mellifluous earlier version. The current version: “Dear passengers, please cover your mouth and nose.”

What’s next? No “please”?

NYTimes: My Lockdown Diary, From a Small, Old Town in Italy

15 Mar

My Lockdown Diary, From a Small, Old Town in Italy https://nyti.ms/2IJA34u

I read this an hour or two ago and now the ORF (Austrian broadcasting) has just announced that Tyrol is being locked down along these lines.

A city in corona mode (and I don’t mean beer)

14 Mar

Greetings from Vienna in an “Ausnahmesituation”. (I’ve just realized I am not sure of the English for that. “Ausnahme” is not as strong as “emergency” but it does tell us that it is certainly not business as usual. LEO tells me it means “exceptional circumstances”.)

So how has the coronavirus so far changed how we live and do business?

One of the biggest changes I see at the moment (other than the fairly empty trams ;-)) is that, as the ORF website put it this morning, “Nichts mehr ist selbstverstaendlich” or “We can’t take anything for granted anymore.” The ORF has been sending out updates every hour or so instead of every few days. From hour to hour the situation changes.

Yesterday St. Anton and Panzauntal were put under quarantine. This morning a ski resort in Carinthia, Heiligenblut, was added to the list.

The universities switched to online learning last Wednesday. As of Monday, schools will be closed.

A few days ago, indoor public gatherings of more than 100 people (and outdoor gatherings of more than 500) were banned. (Vienna without concerts–otherwise unimaginable!) Yesterday we heard that as of next week restaurants and so on will only be open until 3 p.m. and night spots will be closed until further notice. Most stores will be closed as of Monday, although (luckily) for the time-being supermarkets, pharmacies, and banks, among other exceptions, will stay open as usual. (More about the supermarkets in another post.)

Many employees have already started working from home. As of next week it will be more. (I’m wondering how well that will work with the schools closing and am glad that I “only” have a dog.)

Of course, all of these measures are being imposed by the government. I will say openly that I am not a fan of the current chancellor in general, but I feel the Austrian government under his guidance (as well as the City of Vienna government) is responding well–clearly, calmly, unequivocally, and willing to make what could be unpopular decisions.

There have been calls for solidarity, a very special word in European politics, not just because of the Solidarity movement in Poland, and apparently people are responding. In a city where, in many cases, people are only on nodding terms with their neighbors, we are being encouraged to look out for older people and others who are especially at risk, and offer to run errands for them. Exceptional circumstances, indeed!

This will not be my only post on the subject, I’m sure. In fact, I’m creating a special coronavirus tag. But I need to go now. I got my groceries at 8:00 this morning but have realized that I need more paper for the printer if I’m going to be working from home, and Libro (office supply store) is presumably one of the ones that will be closed after today.

May my readers be of good health and cheer through these exceptional circumstances!