Austria announces phase-out of coronavirus lockdown

Austria announces phase-out of coronavirus lockdown
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced steps to take his country out of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown after the Easter holidays. © Belga

Austria has created a timetable outlining steps to phase out a nationwide shutdown enforced in mid-March to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Our goal is to go step by step," Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in a press conference on Monday, announcing a series of steps aiming to bring the country back to its pre-coronavirus normality after the Easter period.

Making the wearing of mouth covers in public compulsory will be a central measure in the government's phase-out plan, and will become a requirement for using public transport from 14 April.

Mouth covers will also become obligatory in all shops including in pharmacies and supermarkets, as well as for police officers, with companies also asked to have staff wear them.

Small non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen on 15 April "under strict conditions," including mandatory usage of face masks and ensuring there is only one customer per 20m2 inside the shop at a given time.

Larger shops, shopping malls and hairdressers will follow suit, allowed to open from 1 May under strict conditions as well, Austrian media reported.

A gradual reopening of hotels, restaurants and other service-oriented businesses could be possible from mid-May, with a decision expected after evaluation of the measures at the end of April.

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Homeschooling and remote university classes will continue until at least mid-May, with schools required to continue providing child care and universities allowed to carry out on-site tests if the "relevant requirements are met."

Measures limiting the free movement of citizens will remain in place and follow the same essential-trips-only guidelines until the end of April, and all events remain cancelled through June.

"So far we have come through the crisis better than other countries," Kurz said during the press conference, in which government officials all appeared wearing mouth masks.

But Kurz cited the example of Singapore to warn that lifting a lockdown and ceasing to observe social distancing guidelines "too early" could backfire.

"We can pull the emergency brake at any time and double down on it," he said.

Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said the country had managed to beat back the "massive exponential curve" of the virus' advancement.

Out of nearly 12,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Austria, 204 people have died and 1,074 are currently hospitalised, 350 of whom in an intensive care unit.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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