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World News

Austria prepares tighter coronavirus restrictions as cases soar

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria was preparing on Friday to introduce tougher restrictions aimed at slowing a surge in coronavirus infections, with media reporting measures ranging from closing shopping centres to a full lockdown as in spring.

The Austrian government has used a lighter touch in dealing with the second wave of coronavirus cases than the first. A nighttime curfew is in place from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. this month but shops are open; cafes, bars and restaurants are limited to take-away service; theatres and museums are closed.

Those measures, aimed at limiting the damage to the economy, have failed to stop infections from accelerating. Daily new cases hit a record of 9,586 on Friday, nine times higher than at the first wave's peak here.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said that as of 6,000 daily new infections hospitals will eventually be stretched too thin.

Several Austrian media said Kurz would announce the new measures on Saturday afternoon around 5 p.m. (1600 GMT), although discussions between Kurz’s conservatives and their coalition partner, the Greens, were ongoing.

As in the spring lockdown, non-essential shops will close, leaving supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and post offices open, Austria’s three national broadsheets reported. One of them, Kurier, said the curfew would become an all-day lockdown, with exceptions such as for shopping and exercise.

Tabloid Oesterreich, however, said only shopping centres rather than all non-essential shops were sure to close, to prevent crowds gathering there as has reportedly happened.

Kurz said this week the government would assess the current partial shutdown’s impact on Friday and possibly adopt new measures. A spokesman for Kurz’s office declined to comment on reports of what those measures would be.

Kurz and several ministers will hold a news conference on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on “necessary measures to prevent an overburdening of the health system”, a government statement issued on Friday evening said.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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