Austria announces end of coronavirus lockdown as economy handed chance to reboot

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz today set out a timetable for easing his country’s COVID-19 restrictions, with shops due to open as early as next week. The 33-year-old leader said there would be a gradual lifting of measures that were implemented to curb the spread of the disease. He urged Austrians to cancel planned Easter celebrations and insisted the restrictions could only be lifted if the rules are closely followed.

“Keep to the measures, avoid social contacts, keep your distance in public space,” Mr Kurz told the country.

According to his timetable, small shops will be allowed to open from April 14 as well as large DIY stores and garden centres.

Weeks later, on May 1, businesses deemed to be a higher risk, including hairdressers and beauty salons, will be permitted to reopen.

Restaurants and cafes could possibly be allowed to start operating again in mid-May, but the government refused to confirm an exact date.

Tough restrictions preventing public events from being staged will continue July, and no date has been set for the reopening of schools.

The government has also extended the requirement for Austrians to wear face masks in public.

People are currently ordered to wear the protective equipment in supermarkets, other shops are that are open, and public transport.

Mr Kurz has found success in strict enforcement of the restrictions, including police fines of thousands of euros, and first-class medical facilities, including one of the highest number of intensive beds per capita in Europe.

Austria has recorded 12,261 confirmed coronavirus cases and 220 deaths related to the disease, but the daily rate of new infections has slowed to 2.8 percent from more than 40 percent in mid-march.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Angela Merkel has refused to lift restrictions, insisting the health of citizens if more important than the economy.

The restrictive measures enforced by Berlin will not be lifted before April 19.

“Nothing will change there,” Mrs Merkel told reporters.

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In her first public appearance after a period of self-isolation, the Chancellor thanked German citizens for respecting the preventive measures.

“I would like to thank you for understanding that exists, because of the vast majority of people abide by the rules,” she said.

She also sent a stark warning to her European Union counterparts, claiming they face their “greatest test” since the bloc was formed.

Mrs Merkel said: “In my view, Europe, the European Union is facing the biggest test since its foundation.

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“We have a big health challenge that is impacting all member states however differently.”

She insisted that it is in the interest of each of Europe’s capitals to emerge from the challenges that lie ahead.

“Germany will only be able to do well in the long run if Europe is doing well,” she added.

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