Austria has introduced tighter rules on social distancing and mask-wearing, with a nationwide lockdown extended until February 7. Life will hopefully return to normal in the summer, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said.
The new rules “don’t make anyone happy and are anything but popular, yet they are necessary, even if everyone is already fed up,” Kurz said on Sunday.
Beginning January 25, Austrians will have to wear respirator-type FFP2 masks in supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, and on public transport. The FFP2s offer better protection against airborne infections than cheaper, single-use surgical masks.
The FFP2 masks, which are currently sold in pharmacies, will be available at a “really low” price in supermarkets, according to Health Minister Rudolf Anschober.
People will also have to stay two meters apart from each other, instead of one meter.
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Kurz said the decision to bring in stricter rules was made in light of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus that was discovered in Britain at the end of last year, and because officials need to curb the rise of Covid-19 cases across the country.
It would be “reckless” to relax the restrictions now, Kurz said, expressing hope that with the ongoing immunization campaign Austria can return to “complete normality” in the summer.
The news of the tighter rules came a day after some 10,000 people, many of whom were maskless, marched in Vienna, protesting against the lockdown.
Medical officials reported 1,267 new Covid-19 cases in Austria on Sunday, including 281 in Vienna.
Overall, the country has had 388,719 cases and 7,082 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to government data.
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