May 15, 2020 / 1:27 PM / 13 days ago

Austria outlines plans to reopen theatres, cinemas

A sign marks a table put out of service to keep social distancing rules at Cafe Landtmann during the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria on Friday outlined plans to start allowing seated cultural events of up to 100 people in two weeks’ time, ramping up to 1,000 people from Aug. 1, as it eases coronavirus restrictions.

Austria flattened its curve of infections with an early lockdown and has been loosening curbs for a month. Shops have reopened in phases and on Friday, restaurants, bars, cafes, churches and some museums followed suit, under strict social-distancing rules and with face masks required in many places.

Theatres and cinemas, however, have remained closed and the conservative-led government has come under growing pressure from the cultural sector to allow events, to the point that the junior minister for culture resigned on Friday.

“We will in a first step allow cultural events of up to 100 people both indoors and outdoors,” Health Minister Rudolf Anschober told a news conference. “We will in a second step do the same for artistic and cultural events of up to 250 people from July 1. That is a big step, a very big step.”

Cinemas would also be allowed to open from July 1, with the same capacity limit, he added. There will be a general requirement that people in an audience stay 1 metre apart.

From Aug. 1, events of up to 500 people would be allowed, Anschober said, with the possibility of holding events of up to 1,000 people when a “special security concept” is prepared for the event in question.

The formerly imperial nation is a heavyweight in classical music and German-speaking theatre. It also hosts many cultural events, particularly in summer, like the Salzburg Festival of opera, theatre and classical music, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a frequent visitor.

Austria and Germany, which have similarly low coronavirus infection and death rates, said on Thursday they had agreed to reopen their shared border on June 15. Kurz said on Friday the same deal was reached with Switzerland and Austria.

Austria’s tourism sector contributes about 8% of economic output in a normal year, and it relies heavily on German visitors. Hotels and other forms of tourist accommodation will be allowed to reopen on May 29, the government has said.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Nick Macfie

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