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Austrians on Monday swapped their cloth face coverings for medical-grade FFP2 masks, now mandatory for those over 14 on public transport, shops and businesses, pharmacies as well as hospitals or medical practices.
Austria is among the first European countries to make FFP2 masks mandatory.
The measure has largely been accepted without complaint, despite controversy over other measures such as the closing of schools while ski lifts remain open.
“Because of the (more contagious) variants of the coronavirus, it is necessary to protect yourself better,” said 24-year-old Vienna resident and graphic designer Hannah Zuegner.
“If everyone participates, I think it will change the situation, especially when the vaccines arrive,” she said.
Though often sold for more than 5 euros each just a few weeks ago, the masks, which block 94 percent of aerosols, can now be found at all grocery stores for 59 cents each. Elderly residents and low-income households received packs of free FFP2 masks last week.
The measure also applies to supermarkets and to service providers such as garage owners and health professionals, while teachers, warehouse workers and people in the public service must also comply at their workplace, unless a minimum distance of two metres can be ensured.
Pregnant women and people with medical conditions that make it harder for them to breathe are exempt.
Following a second lockdown that ended in early December and allowed stores to open for Christmas shopping, daily infection rates quickly increased, leading the government to imposed a third lockdown just a few weeks later, on December 26.
Though it was meant to be lifted on January 25, this third lockdown failed to significantly contain new infections in the nation of 8.9 million, leading to an extension until February 8 and stricter regulations, including the mandatory FFP2 masks.
Currently, around 130 new infections are registered per 100,000 residents each day — well above the maximum of 50 infections the government aims for.
Schools, museums, sports halls, cinemas and non-essential shops are currently closed and the government is urging Austrians to limit social contacts and to work from home wherever possible.
Outdoor sports, however, are permitted, and photos of crowds queueing at lifts or huddling with drinks at ice skating rinks have sparked outrage.
Source: France 24