Coronavirus: Austria imposes second COVID-19 lockdown, curfew

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Austria’s government announced Saturday a second mass shutdown and a curfew starting next week until the end of November, in an attempt to halt rocketing coronavirus infection numbers.

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“From midnight on Tuesday until the end of November there will be a second lockdown,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a press conference.

A curfew between 8pm and 6am will also come into force and no meetings will be allowed between people from more than two households.

The curfew can only be broken for a limited set of reasons such as care responsibilities or essential work travel.

“All events will not be possible. This will affect the sports, cultural and leisure sectors. Hotels will have to close with the exception of work travel and we must also close restaurants and cafes, with the exception of delivery and takeaway services,” Kurz said.

He admitted that the measures represented “dramatic interventions in our social life”.

Unlike the first lockdown in the spring, shops will remain open but the country’s famous Christmas markets fall under the category of events and will therefore have to close.

Universities and high schools will be moved on to distance learning but kindergartens and other schools will remain open.

All offices who can move to home working are being urged to do so.

While Austria’s population of 8.8 million was largely spared the worst of the first wave of the pandemic, in recent weeks the number of positive test results has surged, far exceeding the levels recorded in the spring.

Friday saw yet another new record of 5,627 infections within 24 hours, while Saturday’s figure was barely any lower at 5,439.

At the beginning of October the rate of new infections per day was just over 1,000.

The number of those admitted to hospital after contracting the virus has also been rising, with 64 more admissions recorded on Saturday bringing the total currently receiving hospital treatment to 1,867.
Kurz had previously said he would do his utmost to avoid a second lockdown but said he had been forced to act by the rising numbers.

While Austria had one of the world’s best healthcare systems, “if we don’t act now we our intensive care capacity will be overwhelmed,” he said.

He added he hoped the country could take steps back towards more freedom in December if the new lockdown drove down infection numbers.

For now Austria has not seen widespread popular opposition to anti-coronavirus measures.

A demonstration by anti-lockdown activists in central Vienna on Saturday drew just 200 people, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

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