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COVID digest: Austria eases restrictions

Austria continues to ease curbs on public life amid declining COVID-19 infections. Meanwhile, Canada-inspired protests have mushroomed around the world. Follow DW for the latest.

Austria further relaxed COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday, scrapping proof of vaccination or recent recovery as a requirement to enter shops and museums.

People in the country can now enter these public places as long as they are wearing FFP2 masks.

Curbs on the number of people attending public events have also been eased. However, spectators will have to wear face masks at events such as football matches.

People in Austria, except Vienna, will be allowed back into restaurants starting February 17, if they have tested negative. This rule applies to tourists as well.

Earlier, only those vaccinated or recovered were allowed to dine out.

Here are the latest major developments on coronavirus from around the world:

Asia-Pacific

China has given conditional approval for the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 drug, Paxlovid. This is the first oral pill specifically developed to treat the disease to be cleared in the country.

Paxlovid has been approved to treat adults who have mild to moderate symptoms and a high risk of developing severe disease, said Chinese regulator National Medical Products Administration.

“This is an important milestone in our fight against COVID-19,” Pfizer said in a statement

The pharma giant expects $50 billion (€44 billion) in 2022 sales of its coronavirus jab and therapeutic treatment. So far, the drug has been authorized in about 40 countries, including the US and Israel.

South Korea has reported a record high in daily infections. The country saw 54,941 new coronavirus cases on Friday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Its total infections stand at 1,294,205, with 7,045 additional deaths in the country of 52 million people.

In New Zealand, hundreds of demonstrators protesting COVID restrictions have gathered for a fifth day despite drenching rain.

Similar scenes were witnessed in neighboring Australia, where several thousand protesters gathered at the capital’s major showgrounds. Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged demonstrators to keep their protests peaceful.

Both New Zealand and Australia boast around 94% full vaccination rate.

Europe

Norway is ditching almost all of its remaining lockdown measures as high levels of COVID infections are unlikely to jeopardize its health system, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said on Saturday.

The Nordic country will still keep some restrictions in place for the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

The new measures, which will come into effect from Saturday at 1000 CET (0900 GMT), include relaxing the one-metre apart rule while citizens will no longer have to wear face masks in crowded environments. The removal of these restrictions will enable nightclubs and other affected entertainment venues to reopen.

Moreover, infected individuals will no longer have to isolate. Instead, they are recommended to stay home for four days.

“We are removing almost all coronavirus measures,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.

“The coronavirus pandemic is no longer a major health threat to most of us. The omicron virus causes far less serious illness and we are well protected by vaccines.”

In France, Paris has deployed thousands of police personnel as thousands of anti-COVID vaccination activists camped outside the city limits.

A police spokesperson said nearly 7,200 police and gendarmes “are being deployed over the next three days to enforce the ban on vehicle convoys.”

The protesters have driven in convoys from across France, hoping to blockade the capital. They are demanding a withdrawal of the government’s vaccine pass, which is required to enter most public spaces.

“If they block traffic or if they try to block the capital, we must be very firm about this,” said Prime Minister Jean Castex.

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