Austria shortens coronavirus quarantine, presses ahead with mandatory jabs

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BERLIN, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Austria will impose new COVID-19 measures from Saturday and the government is still working on a draft law to make vaccinations compulsory from Feb. 1 as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Thursday.

Austria managed to slash daily COVID-19 cases with its fourth full coronavirus lockdown between November and December last year, but Omicron is pushing the numbers up again.

"We need to do everything we can possibly do together to prevent another lockdown," Nehammer told a news conference after the federal government met provincial leaders and pandemic task force experts.

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The new measures include shortening quarantine times to five days, requiring people to wear masks outdoors when in crowds, and limiting to six months the validity of vaccine certificates, officials said.

The government will also step-up inspections to ensure shops are granting access only to people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19.

"If businesses do not comply, we will have the power to shut them down," Nehammer said.

Asked about the draft law on compulsory vaccinations the government decided in December but which has not yet been passed, Nehammer said he saw it as a crucial part of the fight against COVID-19.

"The regulator is working on a solution that conforms to the constitution, but in our view, compulsory vaccination is indispensable," he said.

At the same time, people who have had a booster jab and a negative PCR test will be exempted from quarantine, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said, while others can finish their quarantine if they have a negative PCR test after five days.

Evidence that the new virus variant causes considerably fewer severe COVID-19 cases that require hospitalisation has prompted a number of other countries to reconsider quarantine times in a bid to avoid paralysing their economies.

Austria reported 8,263 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearly three times above the daily average number of infections last week.

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Reporting by Zuzanna Szymanska; Editing by Michael Shields and Catherine Evans

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