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Austria begins reopening after 'very early and very harsh' lockdown

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By Louise Miner  & Rosie Wright
Virus Outbreak Austria
Virus Outbreak Austria   -   Copyright  Kerstin Joensson/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Austria's early coronavirus shutdown means it can now begin lifting restrictions ahead of other countries, an expert has told Euronews.

Last week small retailers and DIY and gardening supply stores reopened, while Austrian museums could be back operating by mid-May.

Austria had its first coronavirus case in late February and a nationwide lockdown began on 16 March, shortly after Italy.

"There was a very early and very harsh intervention by the government which really shut down the whole public system ... and this was very strict and people got used to it," Professor Günter Weiss, from the Medical University of Innsbruck, told Euronews.

"Nevertheless, to the effect it was quite early we probably had the reduction in new cases after two or three weeks, and now we see a constant decrease in new cases and there are constant decreases in the number of patients who are hospitalised either at normal wards or at the ICUs. So currently we have less than 100 new cases per day which are as low as ever.”

Austria has had nearly 15,000 infections and 470 COVID-19 deaths. On Monday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported 48 new cases and 9 fatalities. The number of new daily infections has been falling consistently since the end of March.

“The strategy is still to detect cases very early and to encourage people to seek medical attention if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 and the second thing is that we perform very vigorous testing along with quarantine," said Prof Weiss.

"In addition, the country has started to test, for example, employees in nursing homes or in hospitals or with critical or with systematic or low systematic infections so to really identify those people very early and to avoid the spread of infection to the most vulnerable people, for example, the elderly."

To listen to the full interview, please click on the play icon above.