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Austria to loosen face-mask requirement, scrap table-size limit in bars

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will no longer require shoppers to wear face masks and scrap a limit of four adults at a table in bars and restaurants, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Friday, outlining the next loosening of the country's coronavirus restrictions.

Austria introduced a lockdown early in its outbreak and had far fewer deaths per capita than many of its neighbours. It was one of the first countries in Europe able to loosen restrictions, beginning on April 14. Shops, restaurants, bars, schools and hotels have all since reopened.

Authorities have required people to wear masks or alternative cloth face coverings in shops and on public transport, a move aimed at preventing the wearer from infecting others.

"Face masks will no longer be compulsory in shops or in school," Kurz told a news conference, saying the changes would take effect on June 15.

Masks will continue to be compulsory on public transport, in health facilities including pharmacies, and at service providers where social distancing cannot be ensured, such as at hairdressers, he added.

A limit allowing bars and restaurants to seat no more than four adults at a table will be lifted, and a mandatory closing time of 11:00 p.m. will be extended for two more hours.

"We are happy that we can make these adjustments because it means easing restrictions. But I am honest enough to add today that if the situation worsens it will be necessary to reintroduce measures regionally," Kurz said.

Austria has had 16,575 confirmed coronavirus cases and 668 deaths so far.


(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Graff)