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Many shops reopen as Austria takes first steps to ‘new normality’

Many Austrian shops were able to reopen under strict conditions on Tuesday, with the country among the first in Europe to ease coronavirus restrictions following four weeks of shutdown.

Small retailers such as bookshops and boutiques, as well as garden centres and hardware stores, were allowed to reopen their doors – provided they follow strict hygiene rules.

Among other measures, customers must wear face masks and use a shopping trolley to maintain their distance from one another, limiting the number of people who can enter a shop. Long queues formed outside some DIY stores before they opened.

The use of face masks is also mandatory for travel on public transport, where passengers must respect social distancing rules.

Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz on Tuesday welcomed the re-opening of some shops, saying it marked a major step towards a “new normality.”

He added that his government was trying to adjust the measures so there was “as much freedom as possible, but as many restrictions as necessary.”

Around 80 per cent of Austria’s independent retailers stand to benefit from the gradual loosening of measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, with 4,500 shops set to reopen in Vienna alone. Opening hours are restricted to 7:40 am (0540 GMT) until 7 pm.

Retailers that allow in too many customers can face fines of up to 3,600 euros (3,940 dollars).

Austria has fared better than many other countries in the current coronavirus outbreak. Infection numbers are relatively low, with a high recovery rate.

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Hospital capacities have not been exhausted by patients with Covid-19, the potentially fatal disease caused by the virus.

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Tuesday that the number of new cases per day had been rising by less than 3 per cent for the past 10 days, another sign the country was overcoming the crisis. (dpa)

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Augustine Aminu

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