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Shoppers in masks: Austrians get used to the ‘new normal’

Masked shoppers cautiously entered hardware, gardening and smaller shops in Austria on Tuesday, a month after the government ordered them shut to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

Shoppers in masks: Austrians get used to the 'new normal'
Customers wearing face masks and pushing shopping carts line up in front of a DIY store in Innsbruck, Austria, after it re-opened on April 14, 2020, following a "shutdown" in a measure to limit the sp

Among the first in the EU to have imposed strict confinement rules, Austria also became among the first to start lifting them as new coronavirus infections are subsiding.

“I'm simply happy” to be able to go to a flower shop again, Anita Kakac, a 75-year-old Vienna pensioner, told AFP, sporting a blue mask as a red neon “Open” sign flashed behind her in the store window.

“I just hope by God that it's not too early” to ease the lockdown, she said.

'New normal'

“We are on course… Today we can take, as planned, the first step toward the new normal,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a press conference.

Restaurants, bars and schools will still remain closed until at least middle of May, and public events are banned until the end of June.

 

And even as shoppers returned slowly on Tuesday, social distancing and other rules remained in place. Mask-wearing is compulsory in shops and public transport.

Queues were staggered, and one tobacco shop only served customers on the street, while an optician made only part of the store accessible, asking customers to ring a bell to enter.

In a mobile phone shop, employees wore gloves matching the rest of their outfits and badges that read “handshakes prohibited”.

One gardening and hardware store chain made it compulsory for each customer to take a trolley so that they'd be sure to keep a minimum distance to others, according to security personnel.

Only 100 trolleys, all disinfected after each use, are allowed at any one time, while posters read “shopping should not be a family outing”.

Fear persists

Store owners said they were relieved to open again, but were struggling with losses and afraid of long-lasting consequences for their businesses.

“It will take a long time for customers to come back. Some have lost their jobs, others are afraid, and a book is a luxury,” said Gunnar Graessl, who reopened his bookstore in downtown Vienna.

 

And masks impeded having a discussion or drink together. “The customer enters, buys and leaves,” he told AFP.

Lenz Dreher, a 17-year-old student, said he chose not to shop online for supplies for his goldsmithing hobby but wait for shops to reopen instead.

But he also doubted it would be business as usual from now on.

“Firstly the fear hasn't gone away completely. Secondly people may not have as much money as before,” he said, adding that he hoped people would also “change their behaviour” after they realise they could manage “without buying new pants every week”.

Hard-hit businesses

Yvan Savic, who started selling take-out as a stop-gap measure when all restaurants had to close, said he hoped with shops reopening more people would pass by.

“For the moment, my turnover is down by 90 percent… 20,000 euros ($22,000) in fixed costs, I received 1,000 euros in state aid,” he told AFP.

The central train station's huge shopping centre is also still idling with railway services having been ramped down and most stores staying shut.

Markus Handle, a 44-year-old cosmetic surgeon leaving Vienna for western Tyrol province for work, said the confinement went “a little too far” with improved hygiene the most important measure.

“It's good that the economy is picking up,” he said. 

The Alpine nation of 8.8 million people has been spared the worst of the virus with some 14,000 reported cases and 384 deaths.

But government officials warn that easing the restrictions can be reversed any time if contaminations rise again.

“If we have to close again, it will be very hard to hold on financially,” bookstore owner Graessl said.

Hardware store owner Andreas Zanaschka said he expected his business to pick up again but taxes to increase as the government struggles with the economic downturn caused by the crisis.

“What concerns me are the next 20 years,” he said.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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