Lockdown extended until Feb. 7, FFP2 mask requirement coming

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After intensive consultations with states, experts and social partners, Austria’s federal government has decided to extend the “hard” lockdown. Specifically, the country is not to be “opened up” gradually from January 24, as originally planned, but only after February 7.

The planned steps in detail:

  • From January 25, the distance rule will be extended from one to two meters. This will apply to people who do not live in the same household.
    FFP-2 masks will be compulsory to wear in public transport and for customers in retail outlets. These are to be offered at cost in retail grocery stores; low-income people are to receive them for free.
  • Schools will remain in distance learning until the semester break. On February 8, classrooms in Vienna and Lower Austria (in the other provinces, the vacations only begin on this date) should then reopen. Upper Austria and Styria are moving their vacations forward by one week. This means that school will start in Vienna and Lower Austria on February 8, while all other federal states will start on February 15. In addition, self-tests are to be used in schools as soon as they are available.
    The first opening steps are to be taken from February 8: If the seven-day incidence drops to a maximum of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants (equivalent to just under 700 new infections per day), retailers, body-related services and museums are to be allowed to open under certain conditions. They will then only be allowed to open in combination with wearing FFP2 masks and maintaining a minimum distance of two meters.
  • Companies are advised to introduce home offices wherever possible.
    Gastronomy, hotels and event organizers will have to be patient at least until the end of February, in any case they will not be open in February: Mid-February is to be evaluated and a decision made on whether an opening in March is possible.

In view of the coronavirus mutant B.1.1.7., which has now also been detected in Austria, experts have urgently warned against relaxing the restrictions. Moreover, the rate of new coronavirus infections in this country is currently at a seven-day incidence of 130 per 100,000 inhabitants – putting it in the top range in Europe.

The plan to return to normal in the summer stands. “We are very, very sure of that,” Kurz emphasized. “It will be our most beautiful day when we have our normal life back and everything is unlocked again,” the head of government said, referring once again to the vaccines that are now already available: from the time people 65 and older are vaccinated, there will be relief, he said. A goal that should be achieved by mid-April; in the case of a further vaccine approval by the end of March.

The virus mutation B.1.1.7. is the reason that now comes the most difficult phase of the pandemic, also emphasized Health Minister Rudolf (Greens). “In ten weeks, Easter week begins, and then, I am convinced, many things will start to change.” It will be warmer – “the virus doesn’t like that” – and the most vulnerable groups will probably have been vaccinated through by then, he said. Current projections are that about 600,000 people will have received a vaccination by the end of March – if AstraZeneca’s vaccine is approved, 1.6 million people. “That means we have a perspective,” Anschober stressed. Until then, a “joint show of strength” is needed, he appealed to the population: “We can do it.”

Skiing and ice skating remain allowed
For his part, Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) appealed to political cohesion – he hoped that the federal government would continue to involve the states in decisions in the future. In addition, he expressed the hope that “vaccination will again allow a lot of freedom.” “We have to think of the country, not the clientele,” agreed Styrian Governor Hermann Schützenhöfer (ÖVP). At the same time, he urged not to speak of hardship in connection with the pandemic – such a hardship had been experienced by “our parents in the war” – but of a crisis in which one is not doing so badly: “Each of us represents a country but we all work for Austria.”

In recent days, there has also been a “long discussion about the issue of ski resorts,” Schützenhöfer said. For Tyrol and Salzburg in particular, he said, this issue is “very, very important.” He knows that Chancellor Kurz is “not happy” about it, but skiing and ice skating will still be allowed.

— sources: press conference of the Federal government on January 17, 11 AM, with reports from diepresse.at/orf.at/

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