VIENNA, April 23 (Reuters) – Austria plans to loosen coronavirus restrictions on May 19, letting restaurants, hotels and theatres reopen their doors for the first time in more than five months, the government said on Friday despite concerns about stubbornly high infections.
Austria has had three national lockdowns, the last of which eased in February to let non-essential shops reopen and switch to a nighttime curfew from all-day restrictions on movement.
Rising infections in eastern Austria, however, forced Vienna and the surrounding province to reintroduce a lockdown over Easter that is still in effect, as hospitals remain strained by cases driven by the more contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK. There are still more than 2,000 infections a day nationally.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter,” conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference.
A government statement said a nighttime curfew would be scrapped, though meetings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. would generally be limited to four adults.
Tables in restaurants and cafes will be limited to 10 adults outdoors and four indoors, while cultural and other events will be capped at 3,000 people outdoors and 1,500 people indoors, the statement said.
Indoor and outdoor sports will be allowed again. For contact or team sports a recent negative test or proof of vaccination or of a previous infection will be required. That will also be required at restaurants, hotels and events. Schools will resume in-person lessons on May 17.
Kurz conceded the move would increase infections but said vaccinations of at-risk groups meant hospitalisations would not necessarily rise. Provinces can also tighten measures if needed, he added.
“The safest thing is to keep everything closed forever but that cannot be in our interest,” Kurz said. “We are also mindful of education issues, of jobs, and of Austrians’ psychological health.” (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Bill Berkrot)