Austria relaxes strict coronavirus lockdown, urges mass testing | News | DW | 07.12.2020
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Austria relaxes strict coronavirus lockdown, urges mass testing

Austria has scaled back its second lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic, but restaurants, bars and hotels remain closed. Hopeful skiers will also have to wait, as arrivals from high-risk countries need to quarantine.

People line up to shop in Vienna

People queued up to enter reopened shops in Vienna and elsewhere on Monday as restrictions were loosened after almost a month

Austria's strict three-week coronavirus lockdown was partially loosened Monday, with an all-day curfew lifted, non-essential shops allowed to reopen ahead of Christmas, and primary school put back in session.

There were reports of lines in front of stores in Vienna, as Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz asked people to "spread out" the need to shop.

"There are a lot of days until Christmas,'' Kurz told told the Austria Press Agency. "Shops will reopen tomorrow," he added.

Museums and libraries have also reopened, along with hairdressers, and sports facilities that do not involve close contact.

Read moreGermany: Bavaria state premier urges coronavirus summit before Christmas

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Sebastian Kurz: "It's the only way we can save the Christmas holiday season"

Mass-testing drive

As Austria slowly reopens, Chancellor Kurz tried to drum up support for a nationwide mass-testing drive. On Monday, Kurz appeared at a testing center in Vienna to have a sample taken in front of the media.

"I ask the population to participate," Kurz said. "It's better to spend half an hour for a test than weeks in lockdown," he added as the numbers of people taking tests is below what health authorities would like to see.

Austrian Chancellor Kurz and Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig

Chancellor Kurz (r) and Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig dispay their COVID tests

Only around 20,000 people per day have been appearing at Vienna's three coronavirus test centers, Germany's DPA news agency reported. The test centers have a total daily capacity of 150,000.

Proponents of the testing plan say it's identifying and then isolating symptom-free carriers of COVID-19, critics say it's a waste of testing capacity when fewer than 1% of subjects test positive; the positive test rate in Tyrol has been 0.28%, or 620 people in around 220,000 subjects.

Many restrictions remain in place

Austria's coronavirus caseload remains relatively high at around 250 new infections per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period. However, that is down from more than 500 per 100,000 per week last month when the lockdown was enforced.  

Although authorities deem the current rate acceptable for loosening the lockdown, many restrictions remain in place.

Restaurants and bars remain closed except for takeout and deliveries. Hotels are only open to business travelers. Cultural events are still prohibited and movie theaters remain closed. Schools will not hold in-person classes for grades eight and up.

The restrictions for bars, restaurants, hotels and theaters are expected to remain in place until January 6, according to Austria's tourism ministry.

An overnight curfew will remain in place between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. People are only allowed to leave their homes for reasons including work, essential shopping or medical necessities.

Ski areas will be allowed to reopen starting December 24, but only for day skiers, as tourist hotel stays are restricted until at least January.

Further complicating any ski vacation plans in the near future, tourists from Germany and elsewhere outside Austria remain subject to mandatory quarantine until at least mid-January.

Read moreSkiing in Ischgl — despite the coronavirus pandemic

wmr/msh (dpa, AP, AFP)

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