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Austria extends coronavirus lockdown until February 7th

Austria on Sunday decided to extend its coronavirus lockdown until February 7th, while some measures were tightened.

Austria extends coronavirus lockdown until February 7th
Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

The lockdown was set to end on January 25th, but is now extended a further two weeks. The minimum distance has been extended from one to two metres, while FFP2 masks are now required in public transport and retail. 

Face-to-face lessons in schools will now start again on the 8th of February at the earliest. 

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters he expected “two to three hard months” as the country continued to battle high coronavirus infection rates. 

Opening the country now “would not be courageous but it would be reckless – it would be negligence”, Kurz said

Kurz said the situation warranted an extension to the lockdown “even if we are already fed up with it”. 

UPDATED: What are the rules of Austria's coronavirus lockdown? 

Austria currently has a seven-day infection rate of 130 per 100,000 people – well above the target of 50. 

A major reason for the extension is the prevalence of the coronavirus mutation across Austria. The mutation was originally detected in the United Kingdom. 

What measures will stay in place?

The stay-at-home order will be extended until February 7th, while hospitality (restaurants and bars) will need to remain closed. 

From January 25th, FFP2 masks will be required in public transport and in retail. 

In addition, the minimum distance has been extended from one metre to two metres. 

The government however said that it would not yet follow Switzerland’s lead in making working from home mandatory. 

FF2 masks now mandatory in public transport and shops

Austria has followed Bavaria’s lead in tightening mask requirements in public transport and shops. 

FFP2 masks will now be required in all retail shops and supermarkets, along with public transport throughout Austria. 

Previously, cotton masks or scarves were sufficient to satisfy the regulation. 

While FFP2 masks are more expensive than standard medical masks, the government has promised that they will be available to Austrians at cost price. 

People on low incomes would be entitled to the masks for free, a government spokesperson said. 

Supermarkets Lidl, Spar and Rewe told APA on Sunday that they would be selling the masks at cost price – although they were unable to confirm the exact costs of the masks on Sunday. 

A spokesperson from Rewe told Der Standard that the masks would be offered “as cheaply as possible”. 

The retailers also indicated that there would be no issues with supply, even as demand is set to spike as a result of the new law. 

“Any mouth and nose protection is good, but the FFP2 mask is massively better,” said Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) on Sunday

FFP2 masks offer better protection against the coronavirus and other pathogens, with up to 94 percent of aerosols filtered out. 

 

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COVID-19

Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.

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