VIENNA, April 6 (.) – The Austrian government plans to reopen the stores starting next week in a first relaxation of its coronavirus isolation measures, considering that on Monday the country has exceeded the peak of the epidemic, although it expanded the requirements to use masks.
The Alpine republic began the measures three weeks ago, with the closure of schools, bars, restaurants, theaters, non-essential stores and other closed meeting places. The population has been told to stay home and work from there if possible.
The shutdown has slowed the daily increase in single digit infections in percentage terms and the number of people in hospitals has stabilized. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who warned last week that the health system could be overwhelmed soon, said that early application of measures was paying off. There have been 220 deaths so far.
“We reacted faster and more restrictively than in other countries and therefore we were able to avoid the worst. But this quick and restrictive reaction now also gives us the possibility to get out of this crisis more quickly,” Kurz said at a conference call press.
Kurz added, however, that the plan was provisional and that it would only be carried out “if we all continue to maintain the (distancing) measures and stick together as before.” The plan calls for nonessential stores 400 square meters or less and DIY stores to reopen on April 14, the day after Easter Monday. All shops, malls and hairdressers will follow next on May 1, he said.
However, only one buyer will be allowed for every 20 square meters of store.
Restaurants and hotels, meanwhile, will have to wait until mid-May at the earliest and no events will be held until at least the end of June, the conservative chancellor said.
Since Monday, Austria requires buyers to wear face masks in supermarkets and pharmacies of more than 400 square meters.
Although the population has generally supported confinement, cracks have appeared and some supermarkets have run out of masks or have charged consumers for them. Kurz said the government will check that the masks are not being sold for profit. A scarf or shawl can also be used instead of a mask.
The government said it will extend the requirement to use a mask on public transport and in stores that are reopening.
One element that could have influenced Kurz’s decision is a study of whether a representative sample of 2,000 people had been exposed to the coronavirus. The results will be presented on Tuesday.
“What we can say is that it is in the thousandths of a percentage, and the infection rate in Austria, as long as there is one, will be around 1%,” Kurz said.
“Any idea about collective immunity has been clearly denied by this sample.”
Worldwide, more than 1.25 million people have been reported infected with the viral pandemic and 68,484 have died, according to the latest . statistic, and Italy, the southern neighbor of Austria, is the one with the higher national share.
(Information from Francois Murphy; translated by Tomás Cobos)