VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s conservative-led government plans to start reopening shops from next week in an initial loosening of its coronavirus lockdown as it said the country was turning a corner, while widening a requirement to wear face masks.

Austria has been on lockdown for three weeks, closing schools, bars, restaurants, theatres, non-essential shops and other gathering places. The public have been told to stay at home and work from there if possible.

The lockdown has brought the daily increase in infections to single digits in percentage terms and the number of people in hospital has stabilised. But conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said only last week that intensive-care capacity could be exceeded as early as mid-April.

“There will be a step-by-step reopening,” Kurz told a news conference, adding that the fact Austria had acted faster than other countries meant it was now in a position to start reopening shops sooner. It would act cautiously, possibly delaying moves if there is any uptick in infections.

If all goes well, it will reopen non-essential shops of less than 400 square metres and DIY shops on April 14, followed by all shops, malls and hairdressers on May 1, he said. Face masks will have to be worn in shops reopening and on public transport.

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