From 1pm on February 1st, Austria’s federal and state governments are set to meet with health experts to decide a way forward for the country’s lockdown.
While the lockdown is expected to be extended beyond its current end date of February 8th, some measures look set to be relaxed.
Infection numbers have gradually and steadily fallen in recent weeks in Austria, with the current seven-day incidence at 105.4 infections per 100,000 residents.
This is far lower than in December and much of January, however it is still well below the target of 50 per 100,000.
What might be relaxed?
Austrian media reports that several areas are likely to be relaxed from February 8th onwards.
The hard lockdown on ‘non-essential’ retailers is expected to be relaxed, with smaller shops selling clothes and gifts again allowed to reopen.
FFP2 masks will be required in all shops.
Schools also look set to reopen, however this will be done with divided classes. Teachers and students will also be tested weekly.
In addition, ‘body hugging service providers’ – i.e. hairdressers, tattoo parlours and massage services – may again be allowed to open.
These services are likely to be subject to strict hygiene measures, such as FFP2 masks, maximum numbers of people per square metre and the recording of contact details, although the latter has not yet been confirmed.
Museums and art galleries may also be again allowed to open, although FFP2 masks will be required and limits will be placed on the number of people who can enter.
What won’t be relaxed?
Austria’s 24-hour stay at home order looks set to remain in place, according to Austrian media.
Kronen Zeitung reported that a move back to ‘lockdown light’ – where people were not allowed to leave the house from 8pm to 6am instead – was on the table, but unlikely.
At this stage, despite their recent protests it appears that hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes will have to wait a little longer before being allowed to reopen.
Border controls – such as Austria’s quarantine requirement – also look set to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Why is the lockdown not being relaxed completely?
One of the major reasons that a full relaxation has been avoided is due to the prevalence of the coronavirus mutation in Austria.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called upon each resident of Austria to take responsibility to ensure infection numbers continue to fall in the coming weeks.
“We will decide on the plan for the period after February 8th with the state governors on Monday, taking into account the infection situation as well as the social and economic situations,” he said.
“Once again, the responsibility of each individual in the country will play an important role”.
Despite decreasing infection rates, the recent experience of the United Kingdom and Ireland – where infection rates exploded almost immediately after lockdowns were relaxed – showed the need to keep measures in place.
“Together with the experts, we will once again discuss how we can create openings in the first areas very carefully and in a controlled manner without taking too high a risk,” announced Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens).