Vienna, Apr 14 (efe-epa).- “As much freedom as possible, as many restrictions as necessary” was the slogan adopted by authorities in Austria on Tuesday as it became the first country in Europe to take the first steps towards “a new normality”, as thousands of small shops reopened amid slowing rates of infection and increasing numbers of recoveries from the coronavirus.
“The number of new infections and hospital admissions are heading in the right direction,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said at a press conference at which he announced the reopening of shops under 400 square meters and all hardware and gardening stores.
Car washes and garages can also reopen, but hairdressers, gyms and hotels must remain closed.
Since March 16, Austrian authorities have only allowed shops that provide essential goods to operate.
Kurz thanked his compatriots for their “discipline, perseverance and solidarity” in adhering to the confinement measures and restrictions on movement that were imposed four weeks ago.
“As planned, we can take the first step towards new normality today. Small shops are open today in Austria. The exit restrictions continue to apply and wherever possible work should continue from home,” Kurz said, referring to the staggered relaxation of rules that were imposed to contain the virus.
Social distancing measures, restrictions on movement and the compulsory use of masks in public spaces will continue, however.
While the government is optimistic, Kurz warned that strict confinement measures will be reimposed if infections start to increase again.
“Our approach in the coming months will be clear: as much freedom as possible, as many restrictions as necessary,” Kurz said, before warning that “we will pull the emergency brake” “should the numbers develop in the wrong direction”.
The chancellor said that he would provide updates this week on bans on sporting and cultural events, and reminded citizens that the decision on whether schools will remain closed beyond the middle of May would be taken at the end of this month.
Despite the lifting of some of the more severe restrictions, shopping districts in the capital city Vienna remained quiet, although some lines were reported outside gardening centers and hardware stores.
Health and social affairs minister, Rudolf Anschober, said officials expect a spike in infections after the measures were relaxed on Tuesday, although he said he believes social distancing and the use of face masks would keep the virus in check.
He pointed out that in the past 10 days the rate of new infections per day was under 3 percent.
Of the 14,135 confirmed cases reported so far, 7,633 have recovered with some 6,118 still considered active. Only 1,000 of those have required hospital treatment.
Three hundred and ninety four people have died of COVID-19 in Austria. EFE