Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV‑2) reached Austria in February 2020. This study aims to describe the first 8 weeks of the Austrian epidemic and reflect on the potential mental health consequences as known at that time.
Data on Austrian Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) epidemiological indicators and number of tests were obtained from official registers. Relative risks (RRs) of infection and death from COVID-19 were calculated for sex and age groups (< 65 years and ≥ 65 years). Public health measures introduced to reduce the spread of COVID-19 were identified via online media research. A rapid review of initial evidence on mental health consequences of the pandemic was performed in PubMed and medRxiv.
By 21 April 2020 the case count in Austria was 14,810 after a peak of new daily infections mid-March. The RR of death for age ≥ 65 years was 80.07 (95% confidence interval, CI 52.64–121.80; p < 0.0001) compared to those aged < 65 years. In men the RR of death was 1.44 (95% CI 1.20–1.73; p < 0.0001) compared to women. Wide-ranging public health measures included avoidance of case importation, limitation of social contacts, hygiene measures, testing, case tracking, and the call for COVID-19-related research. International rates of psychiatric symptoms during the initial lockdowns exceeded typical levels: anxiety (6%–51%), depression (17%–48%) and posttraumatic stress (5%–54%).
Data show great vulnerability of older people also in Austria. Severe mental health impacts can be expected with need for proper assessment of the long-term consequences of this pandemic.