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Austria to open schools, shops and ski slopes as country eases Covid-19 lockdown for Christmas

Austria to open schools, shops and ski slopes as country eases Covid-19 lockdown for Christmas
Ski lifts will be allowed to operate in Austria from Christmas Eve, and primary schools and shops will reopen from Monday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced as the country plans to relax its coronavirus lockdown.

A 10-day quarantine is to be imposed on people entering Austria from countries where there have been more than 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 in the past fortnight, effectively preventing skiers coming in from neighboring Italy and Germany.

Kurz said on Wednesday that the new measures are designed to push infection numbers down until December 23 in order to allow the public to meet with up to 10 people from any number of households between December 24-26 and on December 31.

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“The falling numbers are a success, but no reason to give the all-clear,” Kurz said, claiming that pressure on the health service had been relieved by restrictions so far, but adding that he expected a surge in cases over the festive period. The chancellor's announcement that skiing is reopening from December 24 is significant, given Austria's 2,000 ski lifts which support a winter sports industry worth €15 billion ($18 billion).

Among the other coronavirus measures outlined by Kurz was the news that hotels and restaurants will remain closed until January 7, while curfews from 8pm to 6am will resume.

The new less severe lockdown, which replaces the stricter measures of the last two weeks, allows two households to meet. Libraries, museums and personal services such as hairdressers will also reopen.

“The pandemic is not over, the virus is with us. The contagion rates are extremely high,” Kurz said.

“In perspective, we will return to normal in the summer, but there are still six months until then,” he added, saying this would only be possible with restrictions and mass testing in place.

In the past 24 hours, Austria has reported a further 3,972 Covid-19 cases while there were 121 fatalities, according to Health Ministry data.

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