Austria to further ease Covid restrictions

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People walk along a shopping street after the fourth full national Covid-19 lockdown was lifted, in Vienna, Austria, December 13, 2021. — Reuters pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - People walk along a shopping street after the fourth full national Covid-19 lockdown was lifted, in Vienna, Austria, December 13, 2021. — Reuters pic

ZURICH, Jan 29 — Austria will begin easing Covid-19 related restrictions next week, Chancellor Karl Nehammer told a news conference today, allowing shops and restaurants to remain open longer and easing restriction on the unvaccinated.

The moves come as the Omicron variant leads to reduced hospitalisations despite high infection numbers.

From February 5, Austria will extend the maximum permitted opening hours of restaurants and shops until midnight and will increase the number of people able to participate in events to 50 from 25, Nehammer said.

“The good thing in spite of everything in this difficult situation - the hospital numbers are at a good level, the intensive care beds, I think it's fair to say, are at a very good level,” Nehammer told a press conference in Vienna.

“We are now in a position to raise new prospects that will allow people a breather.”

New daily coronavirus infections have been rising in Austria, driven by the extremely contagious Omicron variant, with nearly 35,000 new cases reported today.

However, pressure on hospitals has eased, as Omicron leads to less severe outcomes, and the current Omicron wave is expected to reach a peak around February 7-9, Director General for Public Health Katharina Reich told the same press conference.

In a further step, from February 12, Austria will eliminate so-called “2G rules” barring those who are not vaccinated against or recovered from the virus from entering non-essential shops.

Since November 15 those not fully vaccinated have been under lockdown, meaning they are only allowed to leave their homes for a limited number of reasons such as shopping for essentials or working. The measure, which was suspended over Christmas, has been criticised as very difficult to enforce.

Austria last week set January 31 as the date to end a fuller lockdown for the unvaccinated, removing restrictions on their movement.

However, they remain barred from taking part in a range of leisure activities, including eating in restaurants or shopping for non-essential items, as part of government efforts to increase the vaccination rate, which is among the lowest in western Europe.

Now, alongside entering shops from February 12, Austria will also ease measures barring the unvaccinated from restaurants from February 19, Nehammer said, saying those with a negative Covid test result will be able to visit restaurants and tourist attractions. — Reuters

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