Austria started closing its borders as early as March 10th due to the burgeoning Covid-19 crisis.
It began with the closure of their land borders with Italy and the restricted entry of Italians unless given a clean bill of health. This was coupled with a ban on gatherings of more than five people and a stay-at-home advisory unless leaving the home for essential supplies.
The restrictions increased throughout March and into early April, with border crossings on all sides closed or restricted, the total suspension of Austrian Airlines and full closure of the Innsbruck and Salzburg airports to regular air traffic. These strong measures were meant to lower the cases of the virus and keep it from spreading further into Austria from other countries.
Austria has been relatively successful in the global fight against Covid-19, recording 14,553 infections and only 431 deaths since the start of the pandemic.This has been credited to the swift lockdown and strict measures imposed within the country, as well as the smaller population of just 8.996 million people.
More than forty days after the lockdown began, things are beginning to look up. Although gatherings of more than 5 people are still forbidden and all events are canceled until at least June 2020, Austria has made some moves towards lightening the public restrictions and make steps towards a new future.
They are emphasizing a slow reopening of the country with modifications to everyday services. For example, public transportation within Austria is currently operating unrestricted but the covering of the nose and mouth will be compulsory while traveling on all public transportation. Any kind of mask - scarf, home-made, or medical - is fine, but must be worn on at all times.
There is still no official word on when border restrictions will be eased and when the airports will open and nonessential travel will resume. Austria is still forbidding entry by air from outside of the Schengen area to non EU/EEA/CH citizens, minus diplomatic and other essential personnel (such as healthcare workers).
Additionally, exempt third-country nationals as well as anyone else arriving by air from within the Schengen area are only allowed to enter Austria upon the “presentation of a medical certificate that shows a negative molecular-biological SARS-CoV-2 test”, according to the latest information provided by the government. There is currently no estimate on when those restrictions will be lifted.
As of April 14, small businesses and shops, such as gardening centers and DIY stores, were opened to the public once again. The covering of the nose and mouth is compulsory for entry as part of new policies meant to keep the spread of the virus at bay. This signals the beginning of a new normal in Austria, which has endured weeks of serious restrictions.
The possibility of even further easing of restrictions doesn’t stop there- as of May 1st, following the same strict social distancing guidelines, all trade shops and hair salons are set to open to the public once again. Unfortunately, there is no plan to reopen bars or restaurants to the public at this time, although takeaway and delivery will still be permitted.
Other sectors of Austrian society are expected to reopen throughout May, although no further concrete plans have been made. The Austrian government is carefully monitoring how the rest of April progresses before making any final decisions or confirming more wide-ranging plans.
Authorities have to be sure that the number of cases is going down and that premature reopening will cause a resurgence in the virus. Nevertheless, the attitude in Austria is rather optimistic and people are looking forward to getting out of their homes and resuming a few of their previous everyday activities once again. If successful, Austria could serve as one of the first examples of a successfully reopened country post-pandemic.