VIENNA – Austria will allow bars, restaurants and churches to reopen on May 15 in a further loosening of its coronavirus lockdown provided infections do not surge again, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday.
However, tourists will only be allowed back into the country by the summer – and this might not even include British holidaymakers.
Austrian Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger told local media that the freedom of travel will remain restricted in the next few months, but if countries manage the situation well, like Germany, there is a real possibility of bilateral agreements.
Austria was one of the few in Europe to enforce the harsh lockdown very early on during the pandemic.
The country acted early in its outbreak to close restaurants, bars, theatres, non-essential shops and other gathering places more than a month ago. It has told the public to stay at home and work from there if possible.
The first case of coronavirus was confirmed in February with a nationwide lockdown announced on March 16.
On the streets of Mariahilfer Strasse, a shopping boulevard in the centre of Vienna, only a small number of people donning face masks stroll past stores.
Shops began reopening across Austria on Tuesday after the country started to loosen restrictions after a month of lockdown, but most people seemed to decide to stay at home.
Austria has also been among the first to loosen its lockdown, allowing DIY stores, garden centres and shops of less than 400 square metres – roughly twice the area of a singles tennis court – to reopen a week ago. Shopping centres, larger shops, hairdressers and other service providers will follow from May 1.
Secondary schools are due to reopen for school leavers in early May. Kurz said that for other years schools would reopen in an unspecified step-by-step process beginning on May 15.
The main phases in Austria’s loosening of its lockdown are spaced about two weeks apart, which the government has said is so it can assess whether each step has accelerated infections and hospitalisations. Should they surge, the government has said it could slow or even undo steps in its plan.
The government has been lauded for introducing early restrictions on personal mobility and the economy, and has announced several relief funds and support packages totalling billions of euros.
“Everyone will be taken care of,” Sebastian Kurz said, but anxiety over the future remains.
Austria has reported 491 deaths so far, fewer than some larger countries have suffered daily. Its confirmed infections are increasing by less than 2% daily.
“We are going faster here than other countries towards something like a new normality,” Kurz said.