Vienna, 17 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) — Austria has extended and tightened its lockdown, as the coronavirus situation grows more serious with the spread of the new, more infectious British strain.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Sunday that the lockdown would now last until at least Feb. 7, instead of Jan. 24, in an attempt to push the number of new infections down.
The distance that people in Austria are asked to keep from each other has grown from 1 to 2 meters, he added.
Furthermore, the more sophisticated FFP2 masks, which offer greater protection to the wearer, are now required to be worn in stores and public transport. The masks are to be made available free of charge to low-income groups.
In addition, the government appealed to companies to let employees work from home if possible.
However, there is no obligation to offer home office to employees, as demanded by health experts.
The goal is now to reopen businesses—such as non-essential shops and hairdressers— as well as museums and schools on Feb. 8.
But for that to happen the number of infections reported each day must drop significantly, Kurz said.
He warned restaurants and hotels would likely have to wait longer to resume normal operations.
According to initial findings, the British variant B.1.1.7 is already relatively widespread in Austria.
For at least the next 10 weeks, the pandemic will continue to demand sacrifices from Austrians, said Health Minister Rudolf Anschober.
“It will be the most difficult phase of the pandemic,” he warned.
Kurz said he was convinced that vaccinations would return life to normal in the next half year.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 7,000 Covid-19 related deaths in Austria, which has a population of nearly 9 million.
Barely three weeks after the start of the latest lockdown, the number of new infections on Sunday stood at 1,267.
Meanwhile, Austrian police detained 23 people and filed charges against more than 300 others at a protest against anti-coronavirus restrictions in Vienna.
Police said on Sunday that the demonstrators at the Saturday rally had flouted social-distancing and face mask rules.
Six of the suspects taken into custody were accused of resisting state authority.
A total of about 10,000 people took part in the protest on Saturday, including members of the right-wing scene.
The rally started peacefully, but riots later erupted, with members of the media reporting they had been threatened with violence.
Among the participants was Austrian far-right politician and former vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.