Austria To Ease Virus Rules After Vaccine Mandate Begins

FILE - Kurt Switil, left, receives a Pfizer vaccination against the coronavirus in Vienna, April 10, 2021. Austria will end its lockdown for unvaccinated residents next Monday — one day before a COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect in the country, the government announced Wednesday, according to Austrian news agency APA. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said the measure, which was introduced in November, was no longer needed because there was no threat of intensive care capacities at hospitals being overstretched, APA reported. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner, File)

Austria plans to loosen coronavirus restrictions in February after the country’s national vaccine mandate, the first of its kind in Europe, takes effect on Tuesday.

Starting Feb. 5, restaurants will be allowed to remain open until midnight, as opposed to 10 p.m., Chancellor Karl Nehammer said at a Saturday news conference.

In addition, rules effectively barring unvaccinated people from stores and restaurants will be phased out. Starting Feb. 12, proof of vaccination or recovery will no longer be required to enter shops. A week later, on Feb. 19, entry into restaurants will be allowed for all who can prove vaccination, recovery or a negative coronavirus test.

Nehammer also said last week that lockdown restrictions for vaccinated people, which have been in place since November, will end on Monday.

The announcement Saturday comes in spite of record-high new infection numbers in recent days, fuelled by the omicron variant. On Friday, Austria reported 34,748 new cases. As of Thursday, the Alpine nation’s 7-day rate of infections stood at 2,381.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, about 10 times as high as the rate at the start of January.

Still, Nehammer said the low rate of patients now hospitalized for the virus means additional steps toward normalcy are possible. Officials in Austria expect the omicron wave to peak in the first week of February.

Austria has seen over 14,000 virus deaths in the pandemic.