Austria imports workers from Bulgaria, Romania to plug gaps in COVID-19 care

File photo. A woman wearing a protective mask passes by an Austrian Airlines sign at the Vienna International Airport (VIC) in Schwechat, Austria, 18 March 2020. [Christian Bruna/EPA/EFE]

Chartered flights brought more than 200 health workers to Austria on Monday (30 March) to ensure that care was not disrupted by COVID-19 travel restrictions, a regional official said.

Austria’s health system is heavily dependent on staff from eastern Europe, many of whom shuttle back and forth, staying for weeks at a time.

On Monday, 231 medics were flown in to provide round-the-clock care in the region of Lower Austria, which organised flights from the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the Romanian city of Timisoara.

Regional social affairs official Christiane Teschl-Hofmeister told public radio station Oe1: “I can’t tell you now whether this will be a one-off action or not.”

“If the need presents itself again we will try to do everything we can to fulfil it,” she said.

Since several neighbouring countries shut their borders in response to the pandemic, fears have grown in Austria that the crucial flow of healthcare workers could be threatened.

The regional chamber of commerce is paying for foreign staff to stay in a hotel and complete a 14-day quarantine before they begin work, Oe1 reported.

They are then expected to stay longer than the usual period of three to four weeks.

Teschl-Hofmeister said only 70 workers were needed immediately, but more than 200 were recruited as a “security” measure.

The European Commission has issued practical guidance for member states to ensure that workers in key fields can cross borders to work despite the new restrictions.

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