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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 from Monday to slow the spread of coronavirus, the government said on Friday.

The coronavirus reached Austria from neighboring 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 432 cases so far, in contrast to the more than 15,000 cases and more than 1,000 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 neighbors. “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.

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

It will also “lock down” two popular tourist regions in the mountainous province of Tyrol - the Paznauntal and St. Anton am Arlberg, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

Commercial activity in Austria apart from pharmacies, food shops and other stores selling essential goods and services 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.

Kurz called on people not to panic. “All that a state needs to remain functional is of course maintained.” An aid program for companies hard hit by the spread of the sometimes deadly respiratory illness is being prepared, Kurz said.

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

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Thomas Escritt and Mark Heinrich

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