Austria to open borders to Italy, 20+ European countries

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will reopen its borders to Italy and lift a quarantine requirement for travellers from over 20 other European countries next week, officials said on Tuesday, in a further easing of restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus.

The decision should in particular ease tensions with Italy after Austria singled out its southern neighbour for continued coronavirus-related checks given Italy's high number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Austria, which borders eight countries, had lifted coronavirus-induced border restrictions last week for all of them except Italy, which prompted Rome to say such "individualist" solutions risked damaging the image of the 27-nation European Union.

As of June 16 Austria will lift controls on travel from more than two dozen countries including popular holiday destinations Greece and Croatia, the officials said on condition of anonymity, meaning arrivals from those countries would neither have to go into a two-week quarantine nor show a negative test.

The Foreign Ministry and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's office declined to comment.

The lifting of controls will not include Sweden, the officials said, adding that details will be finalised at a ministerial meeting on Wednesday. Sweden did not impose a general lockdown against the virus, unlike most countries.

There has been widespread speculation that Austria will fully lift quarantine requirements only for people arriving from some Italian regions where infection rates are lower.

The government has said it hopes to open the border as soon as possible while adding that some Italian regions have made great progress in reducing their infection rates.

The three northern Italian regions bordering Austria have made major progress in cutting their infection rates. Italy's north has suffered the most infections and deaths from COVID-19, while the south has suffered far fewer cases.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy with additional reporting by Gavin Jones in Rome; Editing by Mark Heinrich)