Austria to further ease COVID restrictions

The moves come as the omicron variant leads to reduced
hospitalisations despite high infection numbers.

From Feb 5, Austria will extend the maximum permitted
opening hours of restaurants and shops until midnight and will increase the
number of people able to participate in events to 50 from 25, Nehammer said.

“The good thing in spite of everything in this
difficult situation – the hospital numbers are at a good level, the intensive
care beds, I think it’s fair to say, are at a very good level,” Nehammer
told a press conference in Vienna.

“We are now in a position to raise new prospects that
will allow people a breather.”

New daily coronavirus infections have been rising in
Austria, driven by the extremely contagious omicron variant, with nearly 35,000
new cases reported on Saturday.

However, pressure on hospitals has eased, as omicron leads
to less severe outcomes, and the current Omicron wave is expected to reach a
peak around Feb 7-9, Director General for Public Health Katharina Reich told
the same press conference.

In a further step, from Feb 12, Austria will eliminate
so-called “2G rules” barring those who are not vaccinated against or
recovered from the virus from entering non-essential shops.

Since Nov 15 those not fully vaccinated have been under
lockdown, meaning they are only allowed to leave their homes for a limited
number of reasons such as shopping for essentials or working. The measure,
which was suspended over Christmas, has been criticised as very difficult to

Austria last week set Jan 31 as the date to end a fuller
lockdown for the unvaccinated, removing restrictions on their movement.

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However, they remain barred from taking part in a range of
leisure activities, including eating in restaurants or shopping for
non-essential items, as part of government efforts to increase the vaccination
rate, which is among the lowest in western Europe.

Now, alongside entering shops from Feb 12, Austria will also
ease measures barring the unvaccinated from restaurants from Feb 19, Nehammer
said, saying those with a negative COVID test result will be able to visit
restaurants and tourist attractions.

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