Experts voice concerns for Austria's plan to drop mask mandate

VIENNA, May 24 (Xinhua) -- Austrian health experts have expressed skepticism after the country on Tuesday announced plans to drop face mask mandate in almost all public spaces from next month.

Austrian Health Minister Johannes Rauch told a press conference on Tuesday that the Alpine country would lift the mandatory use of face masks in public transport and retail sector from June 1, citing the country's stabilizing COVID-19 situation.

As mask requirements in Austria's most other sectors were already dropped in April, mask mandate will only remain in place in the health sector, such as hospitals and nursing homes.

However, Rauch noted that the suspension of the mask mandate would initially be valid for three months, and it is possible to see the mask mandate put back in place in autumn.

The possible policy flip-flops have drawn concerns from health experts.

Thomas Czypionka, a health economist with the Institute for Advanced Studies Vienna, was quoted by Austrian broadcaster ORF as saying that "it could be more difficult to get people used to the masks again in autumn if you say they are not necessary."

"It might be better if the mask requirement remains in place," Czypionka said, noting that masks are a simple and effective way to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

According to ORF, Ulrich Elling, a researcher from the Vienna-based Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, also warned that "If discipline and trust are lost due to the policy flip-flops, you will regret it in the autumn."

Elling noted that face masks have worked very well in public transport for preventing COVID-19 infection.

Austrian authorities are working to drive up the vaccination rate against COVID-19 by autumn, according to Rauch.

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