Emergency measure – test chaos at schools, ministry is examining legal steps

Since the start of school after the Christmas holidays, the problems in the federal states – with the exception of Vienna – with the PCR corona tests in schools have been increasing. After hours of delays, which the “Wiener Zeitung” reported online on Wednesday evening, the situation came to a head on Thursday. The Secretary General of the Ministry of Education, Gerald Netzer, responded with some kind of emergency measure. In a letter to directors, he regretted the “massive problems” and drew attention to possibly “incorrect or incomplete” test results. The Ministry of Education is considering legal action.

The annoyance among school administrators and teachers has recently risen sharply. In Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Burgenland, compulsory schools and secondary schools waited for hours for the test results, only a small part trickled in during the Wednesday afternoon. The test results followed by Thursday morning, but, as the letter from the education department shows, these were at least partially incorrect. The schools in the federal states were therefore “urgently” asked to carry out antigen tests that provide results quickly but are less reliable.

New provider after Christmas holidays

After the Christmas holidays, the company switched to a new provider of PCR tests. The ARGE for molecular diagnostics, which was awarded the contract, is responsible for this in eight federal states – with the exception of Vienna. This gave the Austria Press Agency technical difficulties in evaluating the results – especially in the allocation and evaluation in the database – as the reason for the delays and problems. Since Wednesday intensive work has been carried out to solve the problems, and the remedy “can be expected within the next few days”, emphasized Franz Öller, the managing director of the tester bidding consortium, in a statement.

The Ministry of Education is threatening legal action. A quality check by means of comparative measurements has been commissioned by experts. In addition, legal steps are being examined in coordination with the financial procurator with the support of the Federal Procurement Company (BBG) against the bidding consortium.

“Up and about for face-to-face teaching

The General Secretary in the Ministry of Education “deeply” regrets the problems in the letter to the school management. Work will be carried out “day and night” on solving the problems. Because high-quality and regular execution of the tests is “the be all and end all for face-to-face teaching at our schools”, it continues. Education Minister Martin Polaschak had spoken out in favor of continuing face-to-face teaching.

Criticism also from the state of Lower Austria

Fierce criticism came not only from the opposition parties at the federal level, but also from the ÖVP. Lower Austria’s education councilor Christiane Teschl-Hofmeister (ÖVP) shot herself at the new test provider and denounced an “unacceptable condition”. Because many PCR tests were not picked up or not evaluated. This level of start-up difficulties is unacceptable and must be corrected as soon as possible. There were also sharp attacks from the SPÖ in Lower Austria.

The Ministry of Education pointed out that the new tender had been issued by the Federal Procurement Agency. After a review order, the Federal Administrative Court approved the performance of the bidding consortium for the PCR tests.

SPÖ education spokeswoman Petra Vorderwinkler, like SPÖ teacher representatives, targeted the Ministry of Education, whose mismanagement was an “imposition for all of Austria”. Neos education spokeswoman Martina Künsberg Sarre also spoke of a failure by the government.

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