Austria plans heavy virus testing of hotel staff to reassure tourists

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria plans a hefty expansion of its coronavirus testing just to screen hotel staff, in the hope of luring Germans and other tourists this summer and banishing the uncomfortable memory of a massive outbreak at a fashionable ski resort.

Like Germany, Austria introduced a lockdown to stem contagion early in its outbreak, and it has now been gradually easing restrictions for over a month. Shops, restaurants, bars and some museums have reopened and hotels will follow from May 29.

“We will invest a great deal ... to test as many staff as possible who are in contact with guests as often as possible, to prevent them becoming multi-spreaders,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference on Thursday.

Tourism accounts directly for 8% of Austria’s economic output, or about 15% including related sectors. Neighbouring Germany is the biggest source of foreign visitors, and the shared border will open fully next month.

Memories are still fresh in Germany of Austria’s biggest coronavirus cluster, at the hard-partying winter resort of Ischgl, where the virus spread through crowded apres-ski bars for a month before the town was quarantined in March. Hundreds of tourists from Germany, Norway, Iceland and elsewhere were believed to have been infected.

Austrian Chamber of Commerce chief Harald Mahrer said a consortium of private labs was being assembled to test 65,000 hotel workers a week from July 1. Currently, the Alpine nation tests 6,000 to 8,000 people a day.

Kurz added: “In which country in the world can you go on holiday and say the staff you come into contact with, the waiters, are tested regularly? ... It will be very few countries.”

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Kevin Liffey