From Monday, Austrians over 14 are required to wear medical-grade FFP2 masks on public transport, in shops and businesses, and in pharmacies, hospitals and medical practices.
The mandatory measure has largely been accepted without complaint, despite controversy over other measures such as the closing of schools while ski lifts remain open, AFP reports.
Though often sold for more than €5 each just a few weeks ago, the masks, which block 94% of aerosols, can now be found at all grocery stores for 59 cents each.
Elderly residents and low-income households received packs of free FFP2 masks last week.
The measure also applies to supermarkets and to service providers such as garage owners and health professionals, while teachers, warehouse workers and people in the public service must also comply at their workplace, unless a minimum distance of two metres can be ensured.
Pregnant women and people with medical conditions that make it harder for them to breathe are exempt.
On Monday morning, passengers on one of Vienna’s busiest underground lines wore a problematic variety of masks still, ranging from self-made fabric products to pulled up scarves, the Standard newspaper reports.
Following a second lockdown that ended in early December and allowed stores to open for Christmas shopping, daily infection rates quickly increased, leading the government to imposed a third lockdown just a few weeks later, on 26 December.
The third lockdown, which was due to be lifted on 25 January, has failed to significantly contain new infections in the nation of 8.9 million, leading to an extension until 8 February and stricter regulations, including the mandatory FFP2 masks.
Currently, around 130 new infections are registered per 100,000 residents each day – well above the maximum of 50 infections the government aims for.
Schools, museums, sports halls, cinemas and non-essential shops are currently closed and the government is urging Austrians to limit social contacts and to work from home wherever possible.