Rising to the challenge: a timeline of Covid19 in Austria and the Vienna BioCenter

With the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in Europe in early 2020, scientists at the Vienna BioCenter quickly recognised the potential of basic research equipment and expertise for the development of innovative testing approaches. Within weeks, initiatives sprung up that soon led to important discoveries and tangible approaches for improving the monitoring of the virus.

25 February: First COVID-19 infections detected in Austria

27 February: International business travel-ban effective for IMP-employees

10 March: Safety regulations at institutes tightened, events > 100 participants cancelled

11 March: WHO declares pandemic

mid-March: Andrea Pauli and Julius Brennecke team starts project on fast and easy SARS-CoV-2 detection using RT-LAMP

16 March: Partial lockdown in Austria, schools & universities closed; IMP-IMBA-GMI-VBCF issue strict limitations and safety rules, operations reduced to a minimum, all but essential staff working from home.

late March: Johannes Zuber and team start testing alternative sampling-methods (gargling). Luisa Cochella, Uli Elling, Alex Stark and Ramesh Yelagandula start project on NGS-based COVID-19 testing.

30 March: Up-to-date employee-information via “Corona-Blog” on Sharepoint, serviced by IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF Comms

1 April: WWTF COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding 2020: € 50,000 grant awarded to Johannes Zuber and team

2 April: Johannes Zuber and Alwin Köhler initiate collaboration with Wiener Gesundheits-verbund (Manuela Födinger, Robert Fritsche-Polanz) on gargling-protocol.

3 April: Several research institutions join forces to form “Vienna COVID-19 Diagnostics Initiative (VCDI)”, later renamed into “Vienna COVID-19 Detection Initiative”. IMBA receives WWTF funding for its involvement in three different COVID19 projects, as part of the WWTF’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding

9 April: Johannes Zuber et al. prepare SOP to provide regular RT-qPCR testing for IMP-IMBA-GMI-VBCF employees. Extensive hardware orders for Molecular Biology service at IMP. Meinrad Busslinger initiates IgM/IgG antibody testing for employees.

14 April: Johannes Zuber shares detailed protocol for sample preparation (swab and gargling) with Klinik Favoriten; partial lockdown in Austria eased gradually

15 April: Gradual reopening of the institutes with shift plans and safety measures in place.

17 April: Johannes Zuber communicates first results of tests with patient samples at Klinik Favoriten; gargling works well and sensitivity often superior

20 April: Second test using patient samples analysed at IMP: pooling successful

21 April: Start of in-house COVID-19 testing at IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF (regular RT-qPCR tests on pharyngeal lavage samples) - voluntary and anonymous

28 April: Summer School 2020 cancelled

29 April: Second Kingfisher machine delivered to IMP, speeding up testing procedure

30 April: 2,000 confirmed active cases in Austria

1 May: Alexander Stark finalises testing of primers for high throughput NGS analyses

4 May: Gradual reopening of Austrian schools; Second Austria-wide prevalence study; Phase 2 restart at institutes, shift plans still in place

6 May: 1000 test kits collected at the institutes

13 May: 2000 tests performed at the institutes

15 May: 1.1 Mio Euro granted to IMBA by the European Commission as part of the MAD-CoV 2 project, funding further COVID19 research; restaurants reopen in Austria, border to Germany and Switzerland reopens

29 May: Start of antibody-testing for IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF employees

10 June: Corona-blog relaunched as News-blog by IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF

24 June: Preprint on RT-LAMP testing protocol on bioRxiv (Kellner et al.)

15-19 June and 29 June-3 July: 5,100 gargling samples taken and analysed in "school-study" coordinated by Michael Wagner and Manuela Födinger. IMP provides testing-strategy (gargling-protocol) and analyses the samples as part of VCDI.

13 July: VCDI releases complete SOP for routine SARC-CoV-2 monitoring

17 August: VCDI initiates large-scale monitoring project at Austrian schools using gargling in combination with pooling and RT-qPCR.

18 August: First person tested positive for COVID-19 on site. Contact tracing, close monitoring and isolation allow for swift identification and containment.

3 September: COVID-19 testing: sample processing and analysis moved to VCDI screening lab run by VBCF. New test-kits and sampling logistics rolled out under the responsibility of Johanna Trupke; testing at Vienna BioCenter is expanded to include Max Perutz Labs and DOME.

4 September: Corona “Traffic light” introduced by Austrian government

8 September: Over 600 samples processed at Vienna BioCenter per day.

21 September: Press Conference: Heinz Faßmann and Peter Hacker present mobile testing initiative for schools in Vienna: gargling method, analysis at Vienna BioCenter

28 September: Implementation of sample-pooling, theoretical capacity: 6000 samples/day

1 October: "Cluster Buster Bus" presented, offers mobile testing in Vienna with independently developed RT-LAMP protocol

mid-October: Caritas of Archdiocese Vienna, Johannes Zuber, Novid20, and others start pilot project to monitor staff in retirment and care homes.

19 October: Pauli/Brennecke RT-LAMP website providing full protocol goes online: www.rtlamp.org

21 October: Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) endorses RT-LAMP as fast, cheap and reliable testing method and viable complement to PCR tests

3 November: SARSeq allowing high throughput testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses is published as preprint on medRxiv.

Will be continued