- A host of European countries have started easing their coronavirus lockdowns and moving toward reopening their economies.
- Some countries that have loosened restrictions for more than a week have not yet reported any significant spike in cases.
- That will aid their plans to reopen further, as well as encourage other nations planning to loosen their rules in the coming days.
- However, authorities warn that any resurgence of cases could lead to new steps being delayed and restrictions coming back.
- Some other countries have only just changed their rules, meaning it’s likely too early to know if it has boosted the disease spread. But they are yet to report any disasters too.
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A host of countries across Europe have started easing their coronavirus lockdowns, allowing people to move around more and businesses to reopen.
While some countries only changed their rules in the last few days – meaning any related surge in cases may not yet take hold or be detected by medical authorities – some have operated under looser rules for longer, and no countries have yet reported a significant surge of cases.
If that pattern continues, it will push these governments to take more steps to reopen, and also encourage more countries to start down a similar path.
Many of these governments have warned that the process of lifting the lockdowns will be slow, and that any sign that loosening the restrictions is causing the virus to spread further will result in old rules being re-implemented.
How successful they are will guide other countries that have not yet announced any easing of the rules – like Ireland, the UK, and the US – as well as guide the host of European countries who have plans to start opening up in the next few days and weeks.
Germany has reopened and is being cautiously optimistic
Germany, one of the most infected countries in Europe, allowed shops like bike stores and bookshops to open on Monday.
The country has seen more than 6,300 deaths, though its death rate is remarkably low compared to countries with a similarly high number of cases.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the country as having made a lot of progress, but said infections have to be closely monitored going forward.
“We have achieved so much, but we are not out of the woods yet, and we cannot gamble it all away,” she said.
The country has plans to reopen further in the next few days, including opening schools and more businesses like hairdressers. Bars, cafes, and restaurants will remain closed, with large gatherings banned until the end of August.
However, there is some concern over the country’s reproduction number – or R0 – which is the average number of people that one single person can infect with the coronavirus. This number can differ across countries.
German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported Monday that Germany’s reproduction number had increased from 0.9 to 1.0, which means that on average every person infected is infecting one other person.
Merkel previously said that the country’s health system could be overwhelmed if the rate reaches 1.1, which suggests the plan to lift restrictions could be reexamined.
But given that this increase took place on the same day that some restrictions lifted, it is unclear if the new rules could have caused an increase that quickly.
Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s infectious diseases agency, also said the number of new cases reported daily is still falling and said that the increased infection rate was not a huge cause for concern.
He described it as “an important figure, but not the only holy grail” of epidemiology.
Denmark, Norway, the Czech Republic, and Poland are seeing success
Denmark, where 443 people have died, began lifting its restrictions on April 15 by reopening schools for children up to age 11, and keeping them far apart and limiting the number of children per class. Some parents have criticised this decision.
The country also reopened places like courts, beauty salons, and hairdressers on Monday.
The number of new cases announced every day have been at under 200 a day for almost a week, except for a spike of 235 new cases on April 25.
Since April 7, the Czech Republic has allowed people to cycle, jog, and hike in the countryside without face masks as long as they practice social distancing. It has also reopened outdoor sports facilities.
The country had also clamped down on the virus early in its outbreak, having declared a state of emergency before even recording its first death.
It now plans to reopen large shopping malls, restaurants, theatres, and museums throughout May if cases don’t increase.
And so far they haven’t: New daily cases have remained under the country’s peak of over 300 recorded on April 8, and no more than 150 new cases have been recorded in a single day since April 20. Two hundred and twenty-seven people have died from the virus so far in the country.
Norway, where 206 people have died, reopened preschools on April 20 and schools for slightly older children on Monday.
It also lifted restrictions on people staying in second homes and reopened businesses like hairdressers.
The country hasn’t recorded any spike in cases so far, with new daily cases have remaining below 108 since April 16.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Tuesday: “Norway has managed to gain control of the virus. The job now is to keep that control.”
It hasn’t seen any increase in the rate of new cases since, with cases staying well below the peak of the 545 new cases recorded on April 19.
But Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said rules could be tightened again if that changes, even as the country plans to soon take more steps like opening hotels and preschools.
Switzerland, Albania, and Greece have only just started reopening, but so far so good
Many European countries have started relaxed restrictions within the past few days.
While it may still be too early to know if these measures have increased the virus’ spread, no ill effects have been recorded so far.
Switzerland, where 1,699 people have died, opened businesses like dentist practices, hardware stores, doctors’ surgeries, and garden centres on Monday.
For two weeks, its daily case count has remained among the lowest it has been since the outbreak began.
Albania allowed some stores to reopen for limited hours from Monday, with people also allowed to drive and use taxis more within the country.
Its new daily cases peaked at 34 on April 25, and less than 14 a day have been recorded since. A total of 750 people have been died from the virus there.
Greece, where 138 people have died, opened courts and registry offices on Monday, with plans to open some shops and schools in early May. New daily cases have remained among the country’s lowest since April 14.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned on Tuesday that things need to stay that way, saying a return to normal life “must not lead to a relapse.”
Other countries are also planning their reopenings, including the worst-hit like Italy and Spain
Spain, which has recorded more than 230,000 cases and more than 24,000 deaths from the coronavirus so far, has implemented one of the world’s harshest lockdowns.
On Sunday, it allowed children 14 years to go outside once a day for one hour.
There has been no spike in cases or deaths since: it has recorded some 2,700 new cases and 300 deaths a day since Saturday.
But Health Minister Salvador Illa described its baby steps to reopen as “a first step towards easing” the lockdown, and plans are now in place to let people of other ages to go outside for walks from Friday and for places like bars to open, with limited capacity, from early May.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also warned that the reopening must be slow and cautious as the virus is “still lurking.”
And Italy, which has seen 27,000 deaths – more than any other country in Europe – has announced a gradual easing of restrictions from May 4, including people being allowed to visit parks, visit relatives living in the same region, and take public transport with a limited number of people on board.
France, which has recorded more than 23,000 deaths, will begin to ease restrictions on shops and schools on May 11, but Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned that moving too quickly could cause the virus to surge.
Portugal, Austria, and Belgium have all also outlined plans to start easing restrictions in early May. The world will be watching keenly.
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