VIENNA- Austria will let a wide range of businesses, from non-essential shops to theatres, restaurants and hairdressers reopen when its COVID-19 lockdown ends on Sunday, the government said on Wednesday, but many regions will open up more cautiously.
The move means switching from a single set of rules for the whole country to a patchwork varying between nine provinces. Adding to the confusion, those opening up the fastest included the western provinces of Vorarlberg and Tyrol, which have the highest and fourth-highest infection rates in the country.
"Some (provinces) will act gradually over time, and Burgenlend, Vorarlberg and Tyrol will (immediately) adopt this federal arrangement," Tyrol's governor, Guenther Platter, told a joint news conference with Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.
Vorarlberg and Tyrol are Alpine provinces that rely heavily on winter tourism. Hotels across Austria have been closed to tourists during lockdown, though ski lifts are open.
Austria went into lockdown two weeks ago to counter a surge in daily coronavirus infections to record levels. Infections have plunged but intensive-care bed occupancy is still rising. The government pledged when the lockdown was introduced that it would last no longer than 20 days, until this Sunday.
The list of businesses that can reopen from Sunday applies provided the local province is not keeping tighter restrictions. The province of Upper Austria, which long had Austria's highest infection rate and borders both Germany and the Czech Republic, plans to stay in lockdown until Dec. 17.
Vienna will only let cafes and restaurants fully reopen a week after the national lockdown lifts, while non-essential shops and Christmas markets will reopen from Monday. Austrian media said three other provinces would take a similar approach, only letting hotels and restaurants reopen on Friday, Dec. 17.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alex Richardson) ((email@example.com;))