Austria loosens lockdown further, allowing events of up to 10 people

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will take further steps to ease its lockdown on Friday, allowing events with up to 10 people and instructing the public they no longer need a specific reason to leave home, the government said on Tuesday.

Austria acted early in its coronavirus outbreak to close restaurants, bars, schools, non-essential shops and other gathering places six weeks ago. DIY stores, garden centres and smaller shops reopened two weeks ago - bigger shops and hairdressers will follow from May 1.

The public has repeatedly been told to stay at home, though that was largely advice rather than a legal requirement.

The recommendation from Friday will be to follow existing social distancing rules like staying 1 metre apart, though working from home is still encouraged, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober and Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said.

“This is from my point of view a very big change and a very big step, in which we are betting on trust,” Anschober said. “It is now ... up to each of us not to be reckless but to conscientiously keep fully implementing these measures.”

Austria has fared relatively well in the coronavirus pandemic, reporting roughly 15,000 cases and 549 deaths so far.

Further steps are planned, such as the reopening of cafes, bars and restaurants on May 15. Tourism Minister Elisabeth Koestinger told the news conference that hotels would be able to reopen from May 29, and the government hoped to let swimming facilities open their doors on the same date.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Philippa Fletcher