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Austria Forced Into Second Lockdown After Fighting Losing Battle

Boris Groendahl
·2 min read

(Bloomberg) --

Austria imposed a second lockdown after the coronavirus pandemic got out of control in the past two weeks, with the government surrendering as its plan to make do with lighter, targeted measures failed to stem the surge.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the new restrictions on Saturday, roughly following Germany’s example with a partial lockdown. Schools, hairdressers and non-essential shops will stay open this time, and restrictions on leaving the home apply only at night. Restaurants, cafes and hotels will close except for takeaway food and for business travelers. Gyms, cinemas and theaters will be shuttered too. The rules will kick in Tuesday and remain in force until the end of November.

“There will be a second lockdown in Austria from Tuesday,” Kurz told journalists in a press conference that was carried live by most TV stations. “Like in the spring, it will be necessary to abstain from a lot of things.”

Kurz won praise at home and abroad for curbing the pandemic swiftly and decisively in March. When infections rose more quickly than elsewhere since September, however, his government appeared hesitant and botched projects like a “traffic light” system that would have allowed targeted local measures instead of a nationwide lockdown. Bickering with provinces and within the government coalition weighed on popular support.

Daily new infections in Austria rose to more than 5,000 for the second straight day on Saturday, boosting the seven-day incidence to a record 301 per 100,000 population, almost twice as high as a week ago. Hospitalizations are way above the level in March and the number of patients in intensive care has reached 265, almost the spring peak. While capital Vienna had become the focus of the pandemic in the summer, the western Alpine regions are now the worst affected again.

Companies affected by the lockdown will be reimbursed for 80% of the revenue loss they suffer compared to a year ago, as long as they keep their staff on payroll, Kurz said. The wage subsidy program that helped keep people in jobs in spring will be expanded again. Kurz said the lockdown could be eased again in December, if numbers come down sufficiently by then.

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