Austria said it was temporarily loosening its lockdown on those not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 over Christmas and New Year’s Eve thanks to a drop in infections.
“Christmas should show us once again how important contact with our loved ones is and how precious time together is,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said.
Austria was the first country in Western Europe to reimpose lockdown last month – its fourth of the pandemic – as infections hit record levels. That has brought repeated street protests.
With cases plummeting since, the government had eased the full lockdown last weekend but kept curbs on the unvaccinated and plans to make inoculation compulsory as of February.
“We have in recent weeks gained an advantage that we want to use. We want to use it to take a moment to pause over Christmas to remember what is really important,” Mueckstein told reporters.
Despite the seasonal relaxation, the Austrian government like others around the world is bracing for an explosion of infections from the more contagious Omicron variant.
It has registered 75 Omicron cases so far.
While unvaccinated Austrians are generally not allowed to meet more than one person at a time from another household, they will be granted an exception to join gatherings of up to 10 people from Dec. 24 to Dec. 26 and on Dec. 31, Mueckstein said.
Early closing times for the hospitality sector will be lifted for New Year’s Eve, he added.
Mueckstein declined to say whether Austria will impose another full lockdown in January because of Omicron, but said the country was two to three weeks behind Denmark and Britain where the situation was worrying.
“I cannot and will not rule anything out for January,” he said.
Photo – People play chess in the city center of Salzburg during a nationwide lockdown to stem the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 in Salzburg, Austria. EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA