VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday his country has been so successful in slowing the spread of the coronavirus that others, particularly Germany, have copied its plan for loosening its lockdown.
The Alpine republic acted early in its outbreak to close restaurants, bars, theatres, non-essential shops and other gathering places more than a month ago. It has told the public to stay at home and work from there if possible.
Those lockdown measures have helped cut the daily increase in infections to less than 2% and Austria has reported 510 deaths so far, as many as some larger countries have suffered daily. Germany has taken similar measures and the two have roughly the same mortality rate.
“It is interesting that not only regarding lockdown measures many countries copied our way, but also during the resumption of activities now other countries like, for example, Germany are adopting our plan step-by-step,” Kurz, 33, told the lower house of parliament.
“And that shows in my opinion first of all that the measures we took were right,” Kurz said, adding that Austria’s daily infection numbers were “a top figure internationally”.
Austria took a first step in loosening its lockdown last week, on the Tuesday after Easter, when DIY and garden centres as well as shops of up to 400 square metres – roughly twice the playing area of a singles tennis court – reopened.
When Kurz announced the plan for a first wave of openings due to be followed by shopping centres, larger shops and hairdressers from May 1, his German counterpart Angela Merkel said it was too early for Germany to do the same.
The bigger neighbour eventually followed suit, however, with Germany letting shops of up to 800 square metres as well as car and bicycle dealers and bookstores reopen this week.
Kurz said he hoped the two could agree to reopen their shared border as EU countries start to consider allowing travel between member states that have low infection rates.
Austria’s tourism industry relies heavily on German visitors, though a date from which hotels will reopen fully has yet to be announced.
“I hope we are soon able to take steps forward, particularly with Germany because we have a long border with Germany and many families have been separated,” Kurz said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson)