Austria plans to let cafe and restaurant terraces reopen this month in a further loosening of its coronavirus lockdown that will get an early start in a small Alpine province because of its lower infection rate, the government said.
Austria first loosened its third coronavirus lockdown three weeks ago despite stubbornly high infections, arguing that the economic, social and psychological effect of keeping all of its restrictions in place would have been too great.
Non-essential shops, schools, hairdressers and museums are now open but restaurants, bars, hotels and theatres are not. Ski lifts have been open since Christmas Eve but with hotels closed they have almost only been used by locals and day-trippers. A nighttime curfew has replaced all-day restrictions on movement.
Infections have, however, risen since the lockdown was eased. Daily new infections are now regularly above 2,000, having hovered above 1,000 before, though they peaked at more than 9,000 in November before the second lockdown.
Warmer weather and accelerating vaccinations should help slow the spread of the virus after Easter, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober told a government news conference.
With infections per 100,000 people by far their lowest in the small, mountainous province of Vorarlberg that borders Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the next loosening will happen there first, on March 15, the government said. The rest of the country should follow on March 27.
Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig added that sport in schools would be allowed as of the same day.
The government hopes to take further loosening steps in the culture and tourism sectors in April, depending on how the situation develops, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.
Main Photo: The closed traditional Cafe Leopold is seen in Vienna, Austria. EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA