Austria postpones some virus testing after huge snowstorm

BERLIN (AP) — Several communities in the Austrian Alps put mass coronavirus testing on hold Sunday and others were urged to do the same after a storm dumped huge amounts of snow, sending some avalanche warnings to their highest level.

Some parts of the province of Tyrol saw 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) of snow fall overnight Friday into Saturday, and another 110 centimeters (43 inches) were expected on Sunday, Austria's APA news agency reported.

In East Tyrol, 500 households were left without electricity after trees brought down power lines and the avalanche warning was at its highest level of 5. Several areas in East Tyrol postponed virus testing.

In North Tyrol, the avalanche warning was at 4 on Sunday.

Neighboring Italy and Switzerland also issued avalanche warnings, and the Brenner Pass highway between Austria and Italy was partially closed, as were some train connections, APA reported.

Tyrol authorities told local communities to assess whether the conditions warranted postponing coronavirus testing planned for Sunday.

“The safety of the population comes first,” authorities said.

Austria on Friday started a voluntary mass testing program that officials hope will prevent long, hard lockdowns in the future. The fast antigen tests started in Vienna and in the westernmost Vorarlberg and Tyrol provinces.

Over the first two days, some 300,000 people were tested out of Austria's nearly 9 million. The government is hoping that several million will have been tested by mid December.

The testing is part of Austria's strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus even as it starts to ease restrictions this coming week. Tough lockdown measures that took effect Nov. 17 expire on Sunday.

Going ahead, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austria will keep restaurants, bars and hotels closed until Jan. 7 but will allow skiing from Dec. 24.

In other changes, a limited curfew that has applied around the clock will be eased and will apply only between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Schools will mostly be reopened, as will non-essential shops, museums, libraries and some other businesses.

Austria has seen more than 300,000 coronavirus infections and more than 3,800 deaths, although its infection rate has declined in recent weeks. It is currently recording 266.5 new infections per 100,000 residents over seven days, down from around 600 last month.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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