Austria reintroducing face mask requirement in supermarkets, banks

FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wears a protective face mask as he leaves after attending a news conference with Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler and Austria's Education Minister Heinz Fassmann (not pictured), during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Vienna, Austria May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria is reintroducing a requirement that face masks be worn in supermarkets, banks and post offices because of an increase in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday.

Austria went into lockdown early in its outbreak in mid-March and began loosening its restrictions a month later, even scrapping the requirement to wear face masks in shops and schools on June 15.

Face masks are still required on public transport, in hospitals and pharmacies and at hairdressers.

While the number of daily infections here was regularly well under 50 in May and June, it has increased in the past three weeks - it was over 100 almost every other day this month.

“There are areas of daily life where one cannot choose whether one goes or not - the supermarket, the bank, the post office,” Kurz told a news conference. “We have therefore decided that we will make face masks compulsory again in supermarkets, in banks, in post offices.”

Clusters have recently emerged in and near Vienna as well as in the province of Upper Austria, which borders Germany and the Czech Republic. Several of those clusters are linked to churches, and Austria has reported an increase in cases imported from the Balkans, issuing travel warnings for countries there.

Kurz said tighter testing requirements would be introduced for arrivals from the Balkans, and restrictions would be introduced to reduce the size of religious services and force churches to close in the event of a positive coronavirus test.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie