Europe lays out exit strategies as countries begin to lift lockdown
European countries are slowly unveiling strategies to lift their lockdown restrictions as rates of coronavirus infection continue to fall. EU leaders are next to outline their plans to recovery from the Covid-19 crisis that has battered the global economy.
Europe's four of worst-affected countries, Italy, Spain, France and Germany have all reported marked drops in their infection rates and daily death tolls.
But leaders and experts remain divided on how quickly to revive shuttered economies while maintaining a delicate balance between freedom and safety.
Italy unveiled its lockdown exit strategy on Sunday, France will follow suit on Tuesday and Spain has announced a gradual reopening its economic activity.
Elsewhere, a few lockdown easing measures have been allowed, like hairdressers and florists reopening in Switzerland. But the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands said they are not considering lifting the lockdown for the time being.
Italy has the world's second-highest death toll at 26,644, behind the United States with more than 55,000 fatalities. Italy’s economy, which was on the brink of recession before the outbreak, has suffered massively from a nationwide lockdown that began on 9 March.
Keep your distance
"We cannot continue beyond this lockdown…we risk damaging the country's socioeconomic fabric too much," said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Sunday.
Conte said details of his government’s plan to allow a large number of companies to reopen from 4 May would be made public at the start of next week “at the latest”.
“If you love your country Italy, keep your distance,” he added.
People’s movements will still be very much restricted. They will have to wear face masks in public places. Hugs and handshakes are still discouraged.
Conte said his government will allow a select group of "strategic" companies to resume operations on Monday. Restaurants can open for takeout and wholesale stores can resume business on 4 May.
All other shops will follow on 18 May, as will Italy's numerous museums. Restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in service and hairdressers will return on 1 June.
Schools will remain closed until September.
Spain ‘frees’ children
In Spain, children ventured outside on Sunday for the first time since the lockdown was enforced on 17 March, some wearing masks and gloves.
The new lockdown conditions allow Spain's 6.3 million under-14s to leave their homes each day for a total of one hour between 9am and 9pm, but without going further than a kilometre.
Bicycles, skates and skateboards are allowed, but public parks remain off-limits. The government is considering loosening other lockdown conditions in the second half of May.
Germany began re-opening shops last week with face masks mandatory in shops and public transport from Monday.
Primary schools in Norway have re-opened. Belgium will not follow suit until 18 May, but shops in Brussels will resume business from 11 May.
In Greece, courts have now been allowed to resume work. Commercial outlets may reopen next week.
The Czech Republic eased restrictions last week, lifting a ban on shops, non-essential movement and travel abroad. Universities welcomed students back on Monday. Masks remain obligatory in public.
Prague was one of the few governments to declare a state of emergency before the country had recorded its first coronavirus death.
By 11 March, it had closed all schools, limited public gatherings, banned all public events, sealed its borders and shuttered all non-essential stores. It recorded 221 deaths.
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