Italy-Austria: Coronavirus Emergency Measure Caused Chaos and Panic

More+More+ ♦ Published: February 24, 2020; 11:37 ♦ Updated: February 24; 11:57 ♦ (Vindobona)

A false coronavirus alarm paralysed train traffic between Italy, Austria and Germany. Meanwhile the far right Freedom Party demands that the National Security Council should discuss the situation and that travel to Austria from the affected regions should be restricted.

500 passengers from two trains were stranded on the Brenner Pass late Sunday evening. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Josef Saurwein [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (]

Because of two passengers with cough and fever in a train from Venice to Munich, train traffic at the border crossing between Italy and Austria came to a standstill for four hours on Sunday evening.

The Italian railway reported the suspected cases to ÖBB Austrian Railways. The Austrian Ministry of the Interior intervened - and the responsible district governor of Innsbruck-Land then stopped the train by notice.

The two passengers had already left the train in Verona, where they were tested negative for the new corona virus SARS-CoV-2.

But until the Austrian Ministry of the Interior gave the all-clear, 500 passengers from two trains were stuck at the Italian border station on the Brenner Pass late Sunday evening.

The journey continued at 23:30. Shortly before that, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior had given the all-clear.

The train finally arrived in Munich after an hour-long stop on the Brenner Pass.

In a television broadcast (Zeit im Bild 2) on ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation), Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said that "border controls against the spread of the novel corona virus are not necessary at this time. But we are very, very worried, we are cautious and attentive and will review the situation again tomorrow with all experts".

Anschober once again pointed out that Austria is prepared for all dangers in the matter of coronavirus.

Direct flights from China, which occasionally arrive at Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, would be "extremely well checked", the Minister added.

The far right Freedom Party, however, demands that the National Security Council should discuss the situation and that travel to Austria from the affected regions should be restricted.

"The coronavirus is apparently unstoppable. After the incidents in Italy and the nightly commotion surrounding the train traffic at the Italian-Austrian border, FPÖ federal party leader Hofer calls on the federal government to now seriously address the threat situation: The National Security Council should be convened. It is negligent not to take measures at the borders. Once the epidemic has reached Austria, it will be too late. When world leading virologists talk about the fact that we are facing a pandemic, all necessary precautionary measures must be taken immediately. Even temperature measurements alone do not provide protection, because no fever occurs during the incubation period. There are also patients without symptoms who can be carriers."

A press conference of the Austrian coronavirus task force with Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer and Social Minister Rudolf Anschober will take place today in Vienna.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) is also calling for a comprehensive information offensive.

"It is now high time for comprehensive information for the population. The situation is serious. The people are insecure, they do not know how to best protect themselves", chairwoman Rendi-Wagner told the SPÖ press service on Monday. "The people must be informed comprehensively by the Federal Government. There must be no information gaps. For this purpose, easily accessible information is needed that informs about how to protect oneself from infection, what the symptoms look like, how the treatment proceeds, who the risk groups are and, above all, information about rules of conduct. The ultimate goal must be to protect the population".