Austria close to standstill, another region under quarantine

by Reuters
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 12:57 GMT

* Vienna Airport down to minimum operations

* Rail transport down 70%

* Vorarlberg region under lockdown (Adds details, context)

By Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA, March 17 (Reuters) - Austria came close to a standstill on Tuesday as it faced a second day of major restrictions on public life due to coronavirus, with Vienna Airport operating at a bare minimum, rail transport down 70% and another region put under lockdown.

The Alpine republic, which has reported 1,132 coronavirus cases and three deaths from the global pandemic, put severe restrictions on movement on Monday. Gatherings of more than five people are banned, Austrians are being urged to self-isolate while schools and shops selling non-essential goods have closed.

Vienna Airport expects scheduled flights to completely stop in the coming days due to the coronavirus-related restrictions but planes carrying freight or bringing people back home will continue to operate, a spokesman said.

The largest carriers at Vienna Airport - Lufthansa's Austrian Airline and Ryanair's Laudamotion - had already announced they would suspend flights from Austria in coming days.

Austria has closed its borders to most arrivals from neighbouring Italy and Switzerland. People travelling from Britain, the Netherlands, Russia and Ukraine can gain entry only under certain conditions.

Austria still has no restrictions in place along its border with Germany, although its northern neighbour introduced its own border controls this week.

Rail transport has declined by 70% in recent days and passenger road traffic has declined to a necessary minimum, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told news agency APA on Tuesday.

He urged Austrians to be patient, admitting that operating service hotlines for coronavirus-related questions and support was challenging due to insufficient staffing.

The Arlberg region in the province of Vorarlberg near the Swiss border was on Tuesday put under quarantine until April 3.

It joined the popular Tyrolean ski resorts of Ischgl and St. Anton and Carinthia's Heiligenblut, which had already been put under lockdown in recent days and are seen as Austrian hotspots for the spread of the disease.

Austria's AMS employment agency registered 16,000 applications for unemployment benefits on Monday, chief Johannes Kopf told ORF Radio.

To encourage companies to introduce short-time work agreements, the government has agreed that the state will pay part of employers' social security contributions after the first month rather than from the third month as is normally the case. The state had already relaxed the conditions for short-time work at companies hit by the spreading virus. (Reporting by Kirsti Knolle Editing by Michelle Martin)

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