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Austria scales back virus lockdown, reopens some stores

Customers required to wear masks, keep distance from one another as rules eased

Women wearing face masks take selfies outside a shop in Graz, Austria, on April 14, 2020 as businesses re-opened following a "shutdown" in a measure to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. (ERWIN SCHERIAU / APA / AFP)
Women wearing face masks take selfies outside a shop in Graz, Austria, on April 14, 2020 as businesses re-opened following a "shutdown" in a measure to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. (ERWIN SCHERIAU / APA / AFP)

Austria is beginning to relax its strict coronavirus lockdown measures by allowing small retailers and DIY and gardening supply stores to reopen Tuesday.

All customers will be required to wear mouth and nose covers that help reduce the risk of infection for others, and keep a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) from each other. There will also be a limit on the number of people allowed into stores.

Austria closed almost all stores apart from supermarkets in mid-March in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and has so far managed to keep the number of infections and deaths relatively low compared to other countries.

Austrian authorities have said they plan to let all stores reopen on May 2, followed by restaurants in mid-May, provided the pandemic remains under control.

Austria has seen 384 deaths from the virus and over 14,000 infections.

Customers wearing face masks and pushing shopping carts line up in front of a DIY store in Innsbruck, Austria, after it re-opened on April 14, 2020, following a “shutdown” in a measure to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. (Erich SPIESS / various sources / AFP)

Since emerging late last year, the coronavirus pandemic has killed around 120,000 people and infected nearly two million, tipping the world towards a fierce economic recession as more than half of the globe hunkers down at home.

As countries reach different stages of the coronavirus curve, debate is raging over whether to return to normal life and possibly risk a second wave of infections.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his 1.3 billion citizens their lockdown would remain in effect until May 3 at least and France’s President Emmanuel Macron extended his tight measures by another month.

Despite the absence of a coordinated exit strategy, in some European countries, officials pointed to positive signs as they began prepping to reopen largely shuttered economies and industries.

Italy’s day-to-day increase in infections was one of the lowest in weeks, bolstering a generally downward trend. Slightly eased restrictions were about to take effect in some sectors of the country, such as allowing stores selling baby necessities to reopen.

A man stands with his dog by a makeshift book-sharing library on Piazza Bainsizza in Rome on April 13, 2020, during the country’s lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Tiziana FABI / AFP)

In hard-hit Spain, workers returned Monday to some factory and construction jobs. Retail stores and services were still closed and the government required office workers to keep working from home.

In the United States, governors in the Northeast and along the West Coast announced separate state compacts to coordinate reopenings.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would announce a detailed plan Tuesday for lifting virus restrictions. He cautioned it would use “science to guide our decision-making and not political pressure.”

“The house is still on fire,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said. “We still have to put the fire out … (but we need) to make sure this doesn’t reignite.”

His state is in a coalition with Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island while the governors of California, Oregon and Washington announced a similar plan.

US President Donald Trump pushed back against the governors, claiming “the federal government has absolute power” over easing the restrictions if it chooses. The Constitution, however, largely gives states the authority to regulate their own affairs.

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