Austria became the first European country that outlined an unbelievable plan, a “resurrection” the day after Easter by reopening some shops. That looks like an initial loosening of the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz confirmed on Monday.
For Austria, a largely Catholic nation, coronavirus lockdown has helped reduce the daily increase in infections to 1.6%, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said. As of Monday, the number of people in hospital has stabilised. So far, there were 220 deaths in Austria with total 12,206 cases.
Three weeks ago, the Austrian government ordered to shut down all schools, bars, restaurants, theatres, non-essential shops and other gathering places. As Reuters reports, the public has been told to stay at home and work from there if possible.
The regime of isolation becomes harder to keep for people, especially on the eve of the religious event, Easter. Taking into account that Austria has reacted faster and more restrictively than in other countries, it could therefore avoid the worst.
“But this fast and restrictive reaction now also gives us the possibility to come out of this crisis more quickly,” Chancellor Kurz told a news conference.
However, Kurz cautioned that his plan was tentative and depended on developments over the next seven days. If the situation will show a positive dynamic, the Austrians will start to back to the normal life.
“Easter week will be a decisive one for us. It is one that will determine whether the resurrection after Easter that we all hope for can happen as such,” the head of government said but urged the public to stick to overall lockdown measures that which are being extended until the end of April.
Post-coronavirus: Austria plans a gradual reopening
In fact, Sebastian Kurz’s plan is for non-essential shops of 400 square metres or less and DIY shops to reopen on April 14, the day after Easter Monday. They would be followed by all shops, shopping malls and hairdressers on May 1.
The condition is only one shopper per 20 square metres of shop space will be allowed.
For their part, restaurants and hotels will have to wait until mid-May at the earliest and no public events will be held until at least late June, Kurz warned.
In addition, Austria has since Monday required shoppers to wear face masks at supermarkets and drugstores of more than 400 square metres. The Cabinet said it would extend that requirement to public transport and shops that are reopening.
While the public has been generally supportive of the mask requirement, wrinkles have appeared, with some supermarkets running out of masks or charging shoppers for them. Kurz said the government would check that masks are not sold for profit. A scarf or shawl can also be worn instead.
The chancellor also gave a preview of a study on whether a representative sample of 2,000 people had been exposed to the coronavirus.
“What we can say is that it is in the thousandths of a percent and an infection rate in Austria…will be around 1%,” Kurz said. “Any idea of herd immunity has been clearly disproved at the latest by this spot check.”