Austria to loosen lockdown, allowing shops and schools to reopen

FILE PHOTO: Chairs and tables are cordoned off around a bar after the Austrian government announced to extend the lockdown as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Vienna, Austria, January 17, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

VIENNA (Reuters) -Austria will loosen its coronavirus lockdown next week, switching to a nighttime curfew from all-day restrictions on movement and letting non-essential shops and schools reopen.

The conservative-led government announced the move despite coronavirus infections staying higher than it would like, citing the social toll of continuing the country’s third lockdown, which began on Dec. 26.

“Epidemiologically the issue is clear. The safest course would be to remain in lockdown,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference after discussions with scientific experts, influential provincial governors and opposition parties.

“But we know there is also children’s need to go back to school, there is the necessity of doing everything to keep unemployment as low as possible and there are of course also the social and psychological aspects that must also be taken into account,” he said, adding that the easing will start on Feb. 8.

Only pupils who have been tested will be allowed to attend lessons, with others able to join online, the government said in a statement, adding that tests will be carried out in schools and older pupils’ classes will be split into separate groups.

Shops’ customers will have to wear FFP2 face masks – a higher standard than basic textile masks. Such masks are already required on public transport and the essential shops that are open. Museums, galleries and zoos will also be allowed to reopen, the government statement said.

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