March 13, 2020 / 2:56 PM / 25 days ago

Austria sets border checks with Switzerland, bans more flights over coronavirus

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will introduce border checks with Switzerland and Liechtenstein and ban flight connections with France, Spain and Switzerland to slow the spread of coronavirus, the government said on Friday.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Rudolf Anschober address the media in Vienna, Austria March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The coronavirus reached Austria from neighbouring Italy, which has suffered Europe’s deadliest outbreak, but it has yet to take hold as firmly. Austria reported its first death on Thursday and has 504 cases so far, in contrast to the more than 17,000 cases and more than 1,200 deaths in Italy to its south.

“We are now increasingly beginning to control the borders to Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the same way as we do with Italy,” Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a news conference, referring to Austria’s two western neighbours. “From Monday, there will be flight bans for France, Spain and Switzerland.”

The Alpine country on Wednesday shut its border to people coming from Italy, except for goods vehicles and some other categories such as people transiting Austria without stopping.

The regional government of Vorarlberg, which shares the border with Switzerland, said mobile checks are to start at midnight. Train connections between Austria and Switzerland have already been suspended, said provincial councillor Johannes Rauch.

No restrictions have been imposed along Austria’s northern border with Germany. Travel over landlocked Austria’s frontiers is generally unrestricted in normal times under the European Union’s Schengen scheme.

Austria already has flight bans in place for Italy, China, Iran and South Korea - all with some of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

It will “lock down” two popular ski regions in the mountainous province of Tyrol, which have seen a spike in coronavirus cases - the Paznauntal and St. Anton am Arlberg - for two weeks. Ski resorts in the provinces of Salzburg, Styria, Upper Austria and Carinthia will close the season early on Sunday.

Commercial activity apart from pharmacies, food shops and other stores selling essential goods will be suspended starting on Monday. Bars and restaurants will be open only until 3 p.m. and companies are requested to allow staff to work from home if possible, also from next week.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called on people not to panic. “All that a state needs to remain functional is of course maintained.”

The government has agreed guarantees of 150 million euros to help the tourism industry and is ready to do more, economics minister Margarete Schramboeck told newspapers Die Presse and Kurier. She promised liquidity support for small and medium-sized enterprises and large companies and financial aid for short-time work agreements.

Austria has already banned indoor events and gatherings of more than 100 people, forcing museums and theatres to shut. Austrian schools are due to close from Monday.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Thomas Escritt, Mark Heinrich and Daniel Wallis

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