Vienna, Berlin Sebastian Kurz took off his face mask for a moment. The Austrian Chancellor also wants to show himself behind the man-sized glass window as much as possible. He has something important to announce: the gradual start-up of the economy in the corona crisis.
“Our goal is that on April 14, small shops up to 400 square meters as well as DIY superstores and garden centers are allowed to reopen,” says Kurz. “From May 1st, our goal is that all shops, shopping centers and hairdressers are allowed to open again.” Parts of the catering trade will not be able to open again until mid-May at the earliest.
A decision will be made at the end of April, Kurz announces. The head of government can hardly hold back his pride about the “new normal” in Austria when he appears at the Vienna Chancellery.
Austria is the first country in the European Union to reduce draconian measures for the economy in the fight against the corona virus. And Kurz would not be short if he did not use this opportunity for self-praise: “So far, we have weathered the crisis better than most other countries,” says the 33-year-old, who became chancellor at the beginning of the year. “As Austria, we are emerging from the crisis stronger and better than others,” confirms his green Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler almost word for word. The government in Vienna, which came into office in January, wants to sell the gradual easing in trade as a groundbreaking success.
Is Austria a good example for Germany? Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has always tried in recent weeks to prevent burgeoning exit debates. The Chancellor’s message: Given the increasing number of new infections, it was not time to talk about easing the measures against the corona pandemic. Some see it differently in their party.
North Rhine-Westphalia’s Prime Minister Armin Laschet, who is aiming for the CDU leadership, wrote a long time ago: “The phrase that it is too early to think about an exit strategy is wrong.” to develop the return to social and public life “.
On Monday, Merkel held the first press conference at the Chancellery after the end of her two-week quarantine, which she had gone into after contacting an infected doctor. The Chancellor’s Corona tests were negative.
Merkel did not change her attitude that the announcement of a specific exit date would be counterproductive at the current time. Germany had made progress in the fight against the corona virus, but there was no all-clear, she made clear. The measures apply until at least April 19. “Nothing will change there,” said the Chancellor.
However, the federal and state governments have been working behind the scenes for some time to create the framework for a return to normal. We are looking for an overall concept in which the drastic restrictions can be gradually lifted and the pandemic can be controlled at the same time.
Much depends on increasing the number of intensive care beds and ventilation places in hospitals. The test capacities will also be expanded in order to isolate sick people more quickly. In addition, the contacts of the infected people must be easier to track. The health authorities should receive more staff for this. In addition, a Corona app for smartphones is being developed, with which contact persons of infected people could be identified.
A decision as to whether and when first steps from a state of emergency are possible could be made at the next federal-state round on Tuesday after Easter. Merkel said that health protection “will always be in the foreground, even if public life is opened up”. The health system should under no circumstances be overloaded by seriously ill corona patients.
The headline for the period after the shutdown will therefore be: “We continue to live in the pandemic.” With regard to the decision in Austria, Merkel said: “We have to use our own numbers.” The speed at which the virus in Germany spread out, is still too high.
Austria is more statistically affected by the corona virus than Germany. Nevertheless, according to the government there, the gradual opening of retail has become possible due to comparatively positive developments in the fight against viruses. “We managed to flatten the curve,” said Health Minister Rudi Anschober (Greens). Doubling the number of patients would have increased to 16.5 days.
According to his information, 187 new infections in the past 24 hours were compared to 465 recovered patients. There are currently 250 corona infected patients in intensive care units in Austrian hospitals. “This is only a first stage success. The trend of the past few weeks must continue this week as well, “Anschober said.
With his surprising move, Kurz responded not only to good numbers, but also to political pressure. In Austria, displeasure among many citizens and retailers has increased in recent days. They found the previous regulation, which only allowed supermarkets to be open, to be unfair.
The retail groups with their wide range of products also outside the food sector – from the bouquet of tulips to animal feed and DIY materials – have been doing excellent business in the corona crisis in recent weeks. The small specialist shops, but also garden centers and hardware stores saw themselves at a disadvantage.
In contrast to Germany, there are still numerous owner-operated specialist shops in cities like Vienna, Graz or Salzburg. Their owners belong to the classic clientele of the ruling party ÖVP.
The gradual ramp-up of trade is well received in the economy. “With the gradual relaxation of measures to curb the Covid-19 pandemic announced today, the German government is sending a positive signal with regard to predictability, trust and confidence in people and companies,” said Georg Kapsch, President of the Federation of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.
Rainer Will, managing director of the trade association. He emphasized: “This is a positive signal for our dealers in terms of predictability and a first important step towards new normality for consumers.”
Austria is also expanding the obligation to wear a mask. The wearing of face masks, which has only been mandatory since Monday when shopping at supermarkets over 400 square meters, is extended to local public transport. According to the Interior Ministry, those who do not wear a mask will be fined 50 euros. In practice, however, the requirement for a face mask does not work well in Austria.
Many supermarkets simply do not have breathing masks for the mouth and nose. “We will do everything we can to meet the requirements of the decree as quickly as possible, but with the best will on April 6, this cannot be implemented for all of our 2,550 locations with 40,000 employees,” said Marcel Haraszti, CEO of Rewe International AG, on Monday. Another problem is that the masks are not given free of charge as announced by the government. For example, Rewe charges one euro per mask.
Many customers meanwhile help themselves by pulling their scarf over parts of the face. Some supermarket visitors also wear self-made or purchased textile masks that are washable and therefore reusable.
The time of suffering will continue for the cultural sector in Austria. The government in Vienna banned all events on Monday until at least the end of June. A relief for the Austrian population is that the state gardens such as Schönbrunn Palace or Belvedere Palace in Vienna are opened again after Easter.
More: Austria’s finance minister Gernot Blümel: “Don’t use the corona crisis to implement yesterday’s proposals”. Read more here.