Austria to relax mandatory mask rules in coronavirus fight

Austria announced on Friday that wearing face masks will no longer be mandatory in shops from mid-June as the country enters a fresh coronavirus phase of "fewer rules, more self-responsibility."

Austria to relax mandatory mask rules in coronavirus fight
A visitor wearing a face mask pays for his cashless cinema ticket with a smart watch at the Admiral cinema in Vienna on May 29, 2020. ALEX HALADA / AFP

Covering the mouth and nose will only be mandatory in public transport, health facilities including pharmacies and in places where social distancing rules are hard to keep, such as hairdressers, said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

“We are on a good path in Austria,… so we can begin the next phase –fewer rules, more self-responsibility,” he said.

However, he warned that while numbers of new infections had subsided, they could shoot up again quickly, urging citizens to use “common sense” to avoid posing a risk to others.

The relaxation of mask-wearing rules will take effect on June 15, when restaurants will also be allowed to stay open until 1 am.

When restaurants and cafes initially reopened earlier this month, they had to close at 11 pm. The current limit of four adults per table will also be abolished.

On Monday neighbouring Slovenia will also drop the requirement to wear a face mask, but continues to recommend their use in situations where social distancing isn't possible.

All hotels in Slovenia will be allowed to reopen on Monday, as well as fitness clubs and swimming pools. Public gatherings of up to 200 people will also be allowed from next week, while all students except for those in secondary schools will be able to return.

The country of two million people has reported 1,473 cases and 108 deaths as of Friday — no change on the previous day.

Meanwhile Austria — with a population of nearly nine million — on Friday had a rare day with no new COVID-19-related deaths reported. It has a total of 668 deaths out of 16,571 cases.


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EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

Austria's capital city Vienna has begun registration appointments for those who want to get a monkeypox vaccine. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

As of September 9th, people can make reservations for monkeypox vaccination in Vienna, authorities announced. It is possible to register for the vaccine using the health service line by calling 1450 or via the Impfservice website.

The City of Vienna has said the pre-registration is needed because all planning will be done through a central system due to a shortage of vaccines.

“Please understand that due to the vaccine shortage, we cannot offer preventive monkeypox vaccination to everyone interested. We can use the reservation platform to quickly allocate available appointments and contact interested parties as soon as there are more vaccines”, the authorities said.

After the registration, people will be contacted to book appointments on September 14th. The first available date will be September 19th.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Who should be vaccinated against monkeypox?

Vaccination of the general population is currently not recommended.

Preventive vaccination is only offered to health care workers with a very high risk of exposure to people with monkeypox (designated monkeypox departments/outpatient clinics/offices) and persons with individual risk behaviour (persons with frequently changing sexual contacts), the City of Vienna said.

The health authorities in Vienna also have a specific information sheet in English with more information on the disease.

Monkeypox is a notifiable disease caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus and which can cause a condition similar to smallpox but rarely deadly. People with immunodeficiencies, pregnant women and children are at risk of more severe symptoms.

The virus spreads from person to person through contact with infectious skin lesions, via air droplets through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other body fluids, and when having prolonged and close physical contact, e.g. through sexual intercourse.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Usually, the first symptoms show up 5 to 14 days (at the latest, 21 days) after exposure. These include fever, general exhaustion, headaches, muscle and body aches, gastrointestinal problems and frequently painfully swollen lymph nodes.

“If you have symptoms and have had contact with someone with monkeypox, you must self-isolate at once and call 1450. If you have a confirmed monkeypox infection, you need to stay in self-isolation until the last crust has fallen off”, the Austrian authorities added.