Today, Austria’s education minister Dr Faßmann hosted a press conference to present his pandemic school plans (or perhaps I should more correctly say, the lack thereof).
He was joined by Dr Petra Apfalter, the head of the Institute for Hygeine, Microbiology and Tropical Medicine at the Elisabeth Hospital in Linz, Austria.
During the press conference this morning, Dr Apfalter said (I paraphrase as I was live blogging from German with some colorful commentary when I really couldn’t restrain myself. As a mom of three gymnasium-aged kids, it’s personal.):
And then she said this:
During the Q&A section, Dr Apfalter was asked by a journalist about her earlier statement claiming there is no second wave in Austria, rather a “tsunami” of testing. This was her response:
She then went on question the merits of quarantine, question the merits of testing asymptomatic people, and ended her appearance by telling teachers, in all seriousness, that school is the safest possible place for them to be (do please ignore my rant, I was reaching my breaking point when I hear blatant lies told by people with PhDs and access to microphones / live TV):
In order to better understand why it’s so upsetting that Dr Apfalter was given the stage next to Austria’s minister of education on November 2, 20020, on the eve of the country’s second lockdown, it’s imporant to look back at her record during 2020, her public statements, to see if such an “expert” is really qualified to be advising on the fate of tens of thousands of teachers and over one million schoolchildren in Austria.
On February 12, 2020, Dr Petra Apfalter told meinbezirk.at, “In Austria, I don’t see any real risk of infection” from coronavirus.
Much later in the pandemic, in mid-September 2020, Dr Apfalter claimed that “We don’t have a second wave, we have a lab tsunami”. She went even further, exclaiming that testing should be slowed down: “The test alone does not make a diagnosis, we need a doctor’s assessment for it. I appeal to return to diagnostics to medicine. I appeal to stop testing across all branches!” Extremely questionable words from a medical expert seven months into a global pandemic .
You know who else wanted to slow testing? Donald Trump.
On September 19, 2020, together with her Swedish-way partners in crime, Dr Apfalter questioned Austria’s testing strategy:
“Petra Apfalter, head of the Institute for Hygiene, Microbiology and Tropical Medicine at the Ordensklinikum Linz, spoke out against the current practice of testing asymptomatic people across various industries. “We are currently measuring a characteristic that does not necessarily mean that someone is sick.” 90 percent of the infections would “take absolutely no severe course”. Too much is being tested, which also does not correspond to the intention of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).”
A very, very strange statement seven months in, just as Austria’s school children had returned to school, began to test positive and be sent into 10-day quarantines, a practice Apfalter and her Upper Austrian colleagues have lobbied to change: they are against classifying children under the age of 10 as “K1” contacts even after indoor exposure to an infected person, and therefore also do not want them sent to quarantine.
She didn’t stop there, though. In an interview with ORF Report on October 6, 2020, less than one month ago, Dr Apfalter criticized screening tests for asymptomatic people and questioned the current quarantine rules. The moderator Susanne Schnabl did push back, reminding Dr Apfalter that the WHO recommends “testing, testing, testing”, to which Dr Apfalter responded that unreasonable screening tests would not be included, with zero basis for such a statement.
Dr Apfalter claims that people who tested positive for coronavirus but are asymptomatic cannot pass the virus onto other people. This is simply untrue. We know that “asymptomatic infections will be a key contributor in the spread of COVID-19. Asymptomatic cases should be reported in official COVID-19 statistics.”
Yet our “homegrown” expert claims that the WHO and ECDC didn’t mean “testing, testing,testing” when they said it, and also claims that no other country performs random testing of certain industries (e.g. tourism). Strange, just look at Hong Kong in September 2020, :
“That means there must be some silent transmission going on, so community testing has some role in picking up these silent transmitters,” said Hui, a public health adviser to the city’s government. “Hopefully if we can identify these people and isolate them for a period of time that may help to break the transmission chain in the community.”
It’s almost as if Dr Apfalter has a vested interest in Austria not testing and not knowing how many coronavirus cases it is actually dealing with. Which is truly strange, as a doctor would surely know that 5% of patients ultimately require hopitalization, and 1% ICU care.
You may chose not to test, but people will still get sick. You can’t hide patients once they started needing urgent care, and most worryingly, once they start to die.
Dr Apfalter went on to say that Vienna’s gargle tests for schools are “absolutely to be rejected”. You can’t find what you aren’t looking for, which certainly begs the question, why would a so-called coronavirus expert not want to find coronavirus cases in schools?
Towards the end of the ORF interview, though, she shows her true colors. She is a big fan of Sweden and their path. The controversial, anti-science path that has to date led to five times more deaths from covid-19 than in Austria.
Just three weeks ago, Dr Apfalter claimed “we have, in all aspects, prepared well for the autumn” (5:40).
The data from Upper Austria today would strongly suggest otherwise:
It simply can’t be the case that the ministry of education gives a platform to somone who has been on the wrong side of science since the beginning of this pandemic. The lives of teachers, children, and their families are literally on the line.
On October 11, 2020, Dr Apfalter was given yet another platform, this time on Servus TV (I must admit I have never, ever, watched Servus TV, but I did recently see it referred to as “Austria’s Fox” and that seemed rather spot on), during which she claimed children play almost no role in the coronavirus pandemic, questioned the use of masks, and talked down aerosol spread.
This was less than one month ago. Anyone who spent 5 minutes a day on the internet this year knows that all of that children can and do get sick with coronavirus, masks help reduce transmission of the virus, and the virus can be transmitted by aerosols in indoor spaces.
We have excellent experts in Austria — we heard them, for example, during Anschober’s press conference earlier this morning. It was a breath of fresh air that despite the very scary numbers, real experts were given the microphone and the chance to educate the population about the challenges we are facing.
We have enough problems right now in Austria’s schools: still no universal mask mandate (only a suggestion and only for “big” kids), Unterstufe still required to attend class despite children aged 10–14 being more likely to transmit the virus than younger children, and the insane plan for Oberstufe kids to come in to school tomorrow before going online.
I really, really hope that this was the last time Dr Apfalter will be given such an important, public platform. I sincerely hope she will not have any role in determining any policies with regard to Austria’s schools going foward.
If Minister Faßmann is short on pandemic management experts, he should ask Minister Anschober, who involved not one but four specialists during his informative press conference this morning (which I also live blogged).