Interview with Doctor Matthias Karrer


An interview with Dr. Matthias Karrer, medical director of Europ Assistance Austria and an anesthesiologist and intensive care physician.

Karrer Matthias Dr_1

Doctor Karrer, which of your responsibilities was taking up the most time during the emergency?

I had a little less work at Europ Assistance, and more in my hospital. We prepared for a high number of patients because of Covid-19.Things eventually became pretty stable. We toook all the intensive care patients who didn't have Covid – there was around 9 patients. But normally we would have around 6 intensive care patients, so this is a pretty heavy workload for us because we’re a small hospital with just one intensive care shift. It was a difficult moment.

How bad has Covid-19 impacted Austria?

On the medical side things are stable. It’s better than in Germany or France, and much better than in Italy. I think this is because we implemented regulations like staying at home and social distancing quite early. But on the economic side things are…really terrible. My wife is a flight attendant for Austrian Airlines, a part of Lufthansa, and right now they’re grounded for the second week in a row. Yesterday Lufthansa put 80,000 on part-time work, and Austrian Airlines grounded its entire fleet. There were 600,000 unemployed in Austria. It’s tragic.

Are you doing much work for Europ Assistance?

The case volume is quite low because of Covid-19. We have almost no cases, no repatriations, so my work was mostly in the hospital.

What’s the situation like in your city, Vienna?

It’s stable in terms of Covid-19. Austrians clearly trust the authorities, because no one is going out. The city is totally shut down. People are really respecting the social distancing rules. I’m proud of us. The health minister just released new numbers and everything is holding stable.

How would you explain Austria’s success in combating Covid-19?

It’s a mix of culture and government actions. People are afraid of the virus, because once you’re infected it hits everyone around you and may cost you your life. They’re respected the rules and stayed at home. I believe we were the first country in Europe to enforce wearing surgical masks in the supermarkets, and if you go shopping you see everyone wearing one.

Do you think Austria was better prepared to combat Covid-19 than other countries?

No country was prepared for it, except maybe a few Asian countries. But we reacted swiftly, getting actions in place relatively early. And I think the stability we’re seeing in Austria right now is a result of that. The numbers look good.

Do you think Austria is ahead of the curve and can return to normal life soon?

No, no, not soon. There are two things you have to consider. The first: When will we have proper medication for Covid-19? Right now we have a lot of ideas about what helps cure it, but no clear medication. The second: When will the number of new infections drop? The number of new infections needs to be low, around 1 or 2%. Once the numbers are low, you can isolate people immediately and stop new infections. That’s what they did in South Korea and what we are doing. I think normality won’t return until September.