Austrian signs of life during times of Covid

14.1.2022

Piia Maunula, oboe student in Salzburg, Austria, how has the pandemic affected your life? (The text was written in December 2021.)

Piia Maunula. Photo: Juuso Westerlund.

Because of my studies, I was in Salzburg, Austria, when Covid exploded in the spring of 2020 - well before Finland. Ischgl's infections in Tyrol and the situation in neighboring Italy made the whole of Austria shut down at an early stage. The school stayed closed the whole spring, even though initially an attempt was made to calm people down by talking about just a couple weeks of lockdown.

Throughout this time, the whole country has had stricter restrictions than in Finland, although sometimes opening up and closing completely again. The curfew began at 8 p.m., although it was not enforced under penalty of a fine. Restaurants and cafes were only allowed to sell takeaway, and even that only to eight - after that food could only be bought through courier services. The other shops were not open at all, and the only, questionable, place to continue for the students was at the train station, "Tankstelle."

In the late autumn of 2020, the situation worsened again, the concerts were canceled and not even the accompanist was allowed to attend the lessons. There were no vaccinations yet, so other ways had to be found to control the situation if and when the school premises were to be kept open. The first seemingly peculiar turnaround in this matter was when students were asked about their willingness to monitor their fellow students for money and check people’s IDs at the school door. This felt strange and still does.

In order to enter the school premises, even if only to practice alone, a negative test result had to be shown, initially max 72 hours old, later no more than 48 hours. The tests were free, and there was one test site right next to the school, but the constant booking and scheduling of test times gradually began to feel like work in itself. Nor had it been a week since the fake test results began to be traded on the black market, and the most inventive ones came into the school even through the kitchen of a Korean restaurant.

At one point, the dormitory which is part of our old music palace, once used as the set for the Sound of Music, became infected, and the entire building and its teaching facilities were banned at a few hours’ notice. This resulted in classes and class concerts having to be transferred to the main building. And because a negative test result was required, that whole circus got going - one teacher got a test slot in a village tens of kilometers away, some went to the exhibition center to queue at the city's only unattended point for hours, and I had to go to school already eight in the morning and stay there until the evening since the test result would expire - and I would not have been able to get a test appointment in my own city for the same day.

It was a great relief when, in the spring of 2021, with the gradual introduction of vaccinations in a small part of Europe, continuous testing was no longer required for entry, and a single vaccine was enough. The checking of documents was not so strict either, before the digital certification I easily got in with a HUS cardboard patch in Finnish. I was once asked if I had done it myself - the weird language on the paper was more than often wondered about.

The quarantines were also strictly monitored and the regulations were constantly changing - once I got back Finland (which became clear from the mandatory travel form I filled out for the authorities) and had a police officer at my door early in the morning the next day, indeed shouting "Polizei Polizei" and checking that I was at home as I should. Luckily I was, even though I was just leaving for school. I was also asked to register on a registration form I had never filled out - I got shouted at about this - and I was shown the name of five Spanish people and asked if they lived in my apartment (studio) because they had registered there. This thing was obscured in every way.  

At the end of November, a new lockdown and curfew were introduced - it felt depressing to see that we were at almost the same point again as when everything started. The country is currently undergoing a lockdown for unvaccinated, and forced vaccinations are planned for February. Sounds harsh and it is, but on the other hand, the country's far-right party in its official program recommends refusing vaccines and the country's vaccination rates are among the lowest in Europe.

In Finland at the end of summer and beginning of autumn, the opening of culture was not done well at all, but on the other hand we may benefit from it now. In Finland, most cultural events are still held, in Austria everything is closed again. All in all, when there has been a lot of talk about things being better elsewhere all the time, I allow myself to disagree. It has not been. Austria, which likes to profile itself as a country of music, has chastised culture in these strange times - if possible - even more than in Finland.

Piia Maunula

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