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World

Austria's Government Loosens Lockdown, Some Shops Reopen

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Like most Europeans, Austria's 9 million people have been under a strict lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. And it seems to be working. Austria has seen a steady fall in the daily count of new cases, and this week, it's cracking open the doors just a bit. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austria will reopen slowly, step by step, and progress will depend on how well everyone follows the rules.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEBASTIAN KURZ: (Through interpreter) We are not yet over the mountain. The danger remains among us. And everyone can make a contribution by strictly observing restrictions on movement.

MARTIN: Reporter Kerry Skyring joins us now from Vienna. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

KERRY SKYRING: Good morning.

MARTIN: Kerry, can you just describe what the lockdown in Austria has been like up till now?

SKYRING: There's been quite a tight lockdown here for more than a month now. And I guess rather cruelly, the past two weeks have seen some sublime spring weather. The sun has been out. And this is when the cafes and the taverns would put out their outdoor tables, and they'd be full of customers. But they're not; they're empty. These places are now shuttered, and it's because people have been restricted to only visiting a supermarket for food or pharmacies for medication.

Public transport's been running but could only be used for essential journeys, so practically no one on them. We're allowed out for daily exercise but alone or in the company of members of your own household. And social distancing, of course, was enforced. Fines were handed out to people who gathered in groups.

MARTIN: So what changes as of today?

SKYRING: All of those restrictions I mentioned remain in place. In fact, the chancellor has just been on television and put it this way - as much freedom as possible, as many restrictions as necessary. So from today, businesses such as small traders and workshops, garden centers, places less than 400 square meters will be able to open, but not large places like shopping centers. More people will be able to go back to work. Businesses will be able to earn some money. I've just been out walking. The difference is immediately noticeable.

MARTIN: Oh, interesting. So those small, you know, mom-and-pop independent retailers could see a bump in their business, which is good for them. What is the public's view of how the government there has handled the outbreak, overall?

SKYRING: I think there's a reasonable amount of confidence. You're seeing fairly good social cohesion and cooperation. So the opposition, yes, they have some criticisms, but they're not - most people seem to be accepting it, and most people are behaving. We are given some examples of people who do not follow the rules, and these are regularly given publicity as a way of saying you should obey the rules.

MARTIN: Kerry Skyring - he joined us by Skype from Vienna; the government there starting to roll back some of the social distancing requirements put in place a month ago to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Kerry, thank you. We appreciate it.

SKYRING: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.