Austria enters third lockdown; 4 people infected with new strain in Madrid

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VIENNA — Austria entered its third lockdown on Saturday as many people were still celebrating Christmas. It will last until Jan. 24 but from the 18th people can get tested and come out of it early if they test negative.

rowds at an Austrian ski resort stresses the lack of respect for rules on distancing during the Christmas rush. — courtesy Twitter
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Some of the country’s 400 ski resorts re-opened on Christmas Eve — their owners said the rules on distancing would be respected.

But photographs have surfaced on social media suggesting otherwise, and many have questioned the wisdom of allowing busy slopes to open just 48 hours before a new lockdown.

At a Christmas Day news conference, Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz told Austrians that the first quarter of 2021 would be a very gloomy one but that he expected normality to return by the summer.

He added that a third wave of COVID-19 had to be stopped and that testing and vaccination was the answer.

Mass testing was conducted in early December but it wasn’t a success. In Vienna, just under 14 percent took part and in Salzburg, it was around 20 percent. Originally, the government had hoped 60 percent of the population would take part.

Meanwhile, the new strain of the coronavirus recently discovered in Britain has also reached Spain, DPA reported.

In Madrid, four cases of infection with the mutant strain have been detected, Antonio Zapatero, a deputy regional health minister, said on Saturday. Three further cases are suspected.

PCR testing identified three of the confirmed cases, all family members of a man who flew in from London a few days ago. The fourth case is a young man who also traveled from London to Madrid on Tuesday.

Zapatero reassured citizens in the region surrounding the capital that there was no reason to panic. He said that so far, evidence suggests that while the British variant is more contagious than others, it does not lead to a more severe course of the disease.

Madrid, like most of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, has been sealed off since Wednesday and will remain so until Jan. 6.

Cases of the contagious variant of COVID-19 first identified in the UK have been confirmed in several European countries as well as Canada and Japan. Infections linked to people who arrived from the UK were reported in Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and France.

A couple found infected in Ontario, Canada, had no known travel history or high-risk contacts, officials say. Japan is to ban most non-resident foreign nationals from entering the country for a month from Monday, according to a BBC report.

News of the new variant triggered travel restrictions around the world last week.

Scientists say the new variant of COVID-19 may have been spotted in the UK first because of the strength of the country’s surveillance system.

The new variant is considerably more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily any more dangerous for those infected, experts say.

— Agencies

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