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Austria to allow church services from May 15 under strict conditions

Picture: Churchgoers in Austria have to abide by strict measures as religious services are allowed to resume from May 15.

Credit: Hector Pascua

By Hector Pascua, Austria

VIENNA – Austria eases more restrictions under lockdown by allowing church services from May 15. The move to allow church services was announced by Minister of Culture Susanne Raab and Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in a press conference Thursday.

Raab also said in the press conference that the time has now come to take a "step towards normality", albeit "with caution, so that we can always observe how the infection figures develop."

She revealed that the decision to allow the resumption of church services was not an easy one since the risk of infection was higher in enclosed spaces such as in churches. "People come together over a longer period of time, singing and praying together.“

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said that they are aware that an opening would have to be carried out "very carefully and consciously".

There are however stringent measures to be followed in the holding of services throughout the country including limiting of participants and allocating 20 m² area for each participant in the worship room.

The two-meter distancing should also be strictly observed and the participants are required to wear a mouth and nose protector as a barrier against droplet infection except for children under 6.

Surfaces or devices such as door handles that are regularly touched by churchgoers must also be regularly cleaned and disinfected.

Raab contends that the measures are "not law, a regulation or a decree, because the state does not regulate religious life, but rather these are conditions we have agreed on with the religious communities"

Cardinal Schönborn also appealed to the religious communities for"even more solidarity and more togetherness is needed, many have been affected by this crisis".

"Humanity is a family and in this family, we must stand together worldwide - even beyond the borders of our religious community, “ he added.

The Cardinal also announced the plan to hold a big thanksgiving mass in Vienna's St. Stephan's Cathedral when things are back to normal.

Church services have been suspended in Austria since March 16 as part of the country’s lockdown measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

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