Austria’s government on Thursday said it was making medical grade masks compulsory outside to ward off a new lockdown as Omicron variant cases of Covid-19 rise.
Chancellor Karl Nehammer revealed the decision, telling reporters the situation was “very serious” with Omicron’s degree of contagion posing “a new challenge”.
Vienna acted with new daily cases running at 10,000 on Wednesday,compared with 3,000 at the start of the month, in a country of 8.9 million.
Medical grade FFP2 face coverings had already been compulsory on Austrian public transport and in enclosed spaces since last January.
FFP2 masks offer better filtration than their surgical equivalent and cover the face more effectively.
Austria is also tightening its health pass controls but loosening restrictions including on confinement of those who test positive and those with whom they have been in contact to avoid economic paralysis.
Nehammer said Vienna was not ruling out a new lockdown should hospitalisations spike. the most recent one having ended on December 12 for those vaccinated.
Those yet to be jabbed must stay at home except for reasons including work and buying food in a country where around one third of residents have not been jabbed — one of the highest rates in Western Europe.