Austria has announced it will end its strict social lockdown this Friday (1 May) after seven weeks during which people were only allowed to leave their homes for valid reasons.
As of Friday, people will still need to maintain a one metre distance from each other in public, and it will still be compulsory to wear a face mask in public.
“We can allow the restrictions on movement to expire, we don’t need to continue them,” said Austrian health minister Rudolf Anschober. However, he warned that the coronavirus crisis was not over and the government could at any time re-impose the restrictions to prevent a second wave of infections.
Austria was among the first EU countries to make masks mandatory, after Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Germany finally followed suit this week, but German citizens are only required to wear them on public transport or inside shops.
Some stores in Austria have been allowed to open since 14 April, as the government attempted to re-start the economy and counter the sudden, mass unemployment.
From May, Austria will allow gatherings of up to 10 people and demonstrations under certain conditions. Pubs will be allowed to open again from 15 May, with a maximum of four people per table, and hotels from 29 May.
Austria’s Ischgl ski resort was found to be a hotbed of coronavirus cases in early March, with infected holidaymakers bringing the virus back to their home countries.
However, the Austrian government in Vienna reacted swiftly and decisively with strict lockdowns, meaning the country of 9 million people has to date reported 15,274 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 549 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Austria’s steps back towards normality reflect those in many other European countries, including in neighbouring Germany, where citizens are awaiting Berlin’s decision on extending the current restrictions beyond 3 May.
Denmark and Norway are half-way open again, with shops back in business and some children back to school. The Czech Republic, Italy, and Slovakia are all allowing small businesses to re-open again.
However, France, which has suffered a high death toll from the pandemic, will only begin easing restrictions gradually from 11 May.
The UK will remain in lockdown for weeks to come, British prime minister Boris Johnson said yesterday, warning that the country is at “the moment of maximum risk.”