Ein Mitarbeiter des Bundespressedienstes bei der Reinigung von Plexiglas-Schutzvorrichtungen zwischen zwei Pressekonferenzen im Bundeskanzleramt
APA/Herbert Pfarrhofer
Government communication

Emotions related to spreading fear strategies

The March meeting of the Coronavirus Task Force, which suggests that the government may have deliberately deepened the widespread fear of coronavirus infection, raises waves of protest. The opposition is outraged by the "policy of fear." The law firm presented the statements in a proper perspective, and a member of the expert staff also came forward to defend them. In Germany, there is evidence of similar government considerations.

According to an article published in the Monday daily Ö1, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) said that the public should fear the infection or death of relatives. Chancellor, vice chancellor, minister of health and home affairs, officials and health experts participated in the meeting of the task force of the Ministry of Health on March 12 at the Chancellor of Austria.

According to the protocol, Kurz was afraid that public opinion was not really concerned, after which tropical medicine specialist Herwig Kollaritsch said that the population should be made aware that this is a potentially fatal disease and not ordinary flu.

Is a drastic choice of words necessary?

According to the Kollaritsch protocol, he gave an example of a communication on the British measles epidemic in the 1990s. There, the fear of the population was manipulated. The protocol goes on to say: "It briefly explains that people should be afraid of infection or fear that parents / grandparents will die. On the other hand, the fear of lack of food, power cuts, etc. should be reduced. "- Audio Report in German oe1.ORF.at i oe1.ORF.at.

According to Ö1, Kollaritsch said he was not talking about playing with fear in Austria. He said that without the drastic choice of words, the population would not have taken governmental measures. Chancellor spokesman said that Kurz showed understanding only for fear of family members. The Ministry of Health told Ö1 that the chancellor was rightly afraid of the elderly - and the advisory staff were worried about exchanging ideas, not instructions and decisions.

Socialist Party of Austria SPÖ: "No responsible crisis policy"

Partie opozycyjne były oburzone tymi doniesieniami. "You don't do something like that," said SPÖ club vice president Jörg Leichtfried. "There is something wrong with fighting the crisis," said Leichtfried at a press conference on Monday. If today it turns out that people in Austria are clearly intentionally terrified, in my opinion this is extremely disturbing. For example, Leichtfried referred to residents of nursing homes who are already scared and unable to accept relatives - "then there is a moment of fear". "You don't do it if you are responsible for crisis management."

FPÖ: "Special class scandal"

In the case of the Freedom Party of Austria, chairman of the FPÖ club Herbert Kickl, this "fear" transfers Kurz's communication "like a dangerous thread". This is the "new normality" software of the new People's Party (ÖVP). " "Horror Pictures" "100,000 killed" or "Everyone will soon meet someone who died on Corona," are still "well remembered." They should "lay the foundations for a huge interference in fundamental rights that the government has established, and even more so - in keyword requirements," said Kickl. The protocol was "probably just the tip of the iceberg," he guessed and spoke of a "special class scandal."

Meinl-Reisinger lacks transparency

Also from NEOS, she criticized: party leader Beate Meinl-Reisinger clearly opposed the "politics of fear." The government believes that it has consciously appealed to the fear of the population. There is still a lack of information on the basis of which the government makes decisions. She said that if you can't present anything here, then of course you must act with fear.

Rector: 'Underrated public disease'

Medical University Vienna Rector Markus Müller, who is a member of the staff of government experts, has explicitly rejected reports of scaring tactics in talks with the APA. There was certainly no scare tactics. But I'm afraid that public awareness of Covid-19 was not yet enough.

Müller pointed out that during the meeting on March 12 it became clear that there was a big problem in Tyrol and that the situation in Italy was getting out of hand. This was certainly a trigger for the funds taken over at the time. And also the fact that it was no longer possible to trace all the infection chains. At that time, Austria also faced a very rapid increase in the number of infections. It was clear that this should be suppressed, otherwise we would end up in a situation that is difficult or impossible to control.

During the meeting, public awareness of the disease was also discussed, said Müller. At the beginning, at least in February, public awareness of Covid-19 was not yet sufficiently present. This was discussed as crucial for the success of the measures and as an underestimation of the disease in public opinion. And that that could be a problem.

Chancellor Kurz's drastic words two weeks later

However, the impression was made that very drastic words were found shortly two weeks later: on March 30, when the chancellor announced the requirement for a mask in supermarkets: "The truth is: there is calm before the storm. And you can say how cruel this storm can be when looking at our neighboring country, Italy. "

He warned that intensive care medicine could be overwhelmed by work in mid-April: "No health care system in the world can cope with the rapid spread of the disease. How long the overload will last, especially in intensive care medicine, depends on us all. It is already clear that many people will die of this disease. However, we must do everything in our power so that no more people die than they must die. In Austria too, the situation would soon be "everyone knows everyone who has died of the crown."

A controversial article by mathematicians

The background to the drastic words was apparently an article developed by a group of scientists, primarily mathematicians - the only exception was the biologist and geneticist Magnus Nordborg of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the rector of the Müller Medical University of Vienna. Model calculations are used here that result in far more drastic infection and death rates than models actually used by Simulation Expert Niki Popper from the Vienna University of Technology of the Ministry of Health.

The article, which has never been published and is available to ORF.at, speaks of "tens of thousands of deaths and the collapse of the healthcare system" if it is not possible to rapidly reduce the number of virus reproductions below one. Even with an "optimistic" assumption, around 6,000 deaths were expected by the end of the year. It was quickly criticized that from an epidemiological point of view it was a "numbers game," it was said that terms were also confused.

Excitement also in Germany

The debate about fear as a strategy to make people aware of the gravity of the situation also existed in Germany - the article leaked there. An internal document of the German Ministry of the Interior discusses communication strategies in addition to other measures. It wrote: "The worst case, with all its consequences for the population in Germany, must be clear, decisive and transparent."

To achieve the "desired shock effect," it was said, for example: "Many seriously ill patients are brought to the hospital by relatives, but rejected and die painfully at home fighting for air. Choking or lack of sufficient air is the cause of primary fear for everyone. "Opposes the belief that children are not affected by this problem:" If they then infect their parents and one of them dies painfully at home - they will feel guilty. For example, they forgot to wash their hands after playing is the most terrible thing a child can experience. "

Finally, "the consequences of damage such as myocardial infarction or lung failure" can also be addressed, even if only "individual case reports" have so far been available. It is not clear to what extent the article was more than a basis for discussion. There is no evidence of concrete implementation of these means of communication.