Austria extends lockdown to 7 February, toughens some measures

The Austrian government is extending the country’s lockdown until 7 February in a drive to push down still-high infection figures as officials worry about the possible impact of new coronavirus variants.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Sunday that some measures will also be tightened as a result of the more infectious variants that were first detected in Britain and South Africa. He said people will now be asked to stay 2 meters apart instead of 1 meter.

Beginning on 25 January, they will also be required to wear full protective masks on public transport and in shops, rather than just fabric face coverings. People on low incomes will get such masks free, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said.

Austria’s current lockdown, its third, started on 26 December and was to end on 24 January. Kurz said Austria is keen to avoid a situation such as that in Britain and Ireland, where infections have risen sharply and rapidly as new variants take hold. So far, Austria has over 150 suspected infections with the British variant, Anschober said.

Kurz said Austria needs to get as close as it can to, and preferably below, an infection level of 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over 7 days. The figure now stands at 131.

“Our aim is to approach this figure ... by 8 February and start the first steps toward opening on Feb. 8,” with schools, nonessential shops, museums and services such as hairdressers reopening, Kurz told a news conference in Vienna.

But Kurz made clear that restaurants and hotels will have to wait longer.

“We have to assume at present that, at least in February, it will not be possible to open tourism and catering,” he said, adding that a decision will be made in mid-February.

Austria, a nation of 8.9 million, has confirmed nearly 390,000 cases and seen 6,964 deaths related to COVID-19.

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