ZURICH (Reuters) – It is only a matter of time until more European countries adopt the kind of aggressive steps that Italy is taking to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Sunday.
Italy, Austria’s southern neighbor, imposed a virtual lockdown across a swathe of its wealthy north on Sunday including the financial capital Milan, in a drastic new attempt to try to contain a rapidly growing outbreak.
Kurz told broadcaster ORF the situation in Austria — where health authorities have reported 99 confirmed coronavirus cases so far — was under control and the measures it has adopted were proper, although probably not the final steps required.
Austria said last week it would introduce “spot” health checks at its border with Italy for two weeks.
Austria could “of course” close schools, kindergartens and universities or curb large events if needed, Kurz said, adding he was in contact with the leaders of other European countries.
“It will be important to decide which steps to take when. You can close schools for one or two weeks and this is urgently necessary in Italy. It will happen in other European countries. The decisive question is when to do it,” Kurz said.
The dilemma is how to head off a peak in infections that could paralyze public health systems without doing too much economic damage, he added.
“You have to consider carefully when to adopt these measures because a national economy cannot handle this over too long a period,” he added.
He said the virus outbreak would weigh on Austrian economic growth, originally projected at 1.2-1.7% this year, but did not elaborate.
Kurz said the spot checks at the Italian border would not just detect individuals infected with the coronavirus but also reduce cross-border flows of travelers, reducing the risk of infection.
Austria last week said it was temporarily banning flights to northern Italy as well as other virus hot spots Iran and South Korea. Austrian Airlines has halted flights to China until April 24.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Frances Kerry)