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European nations ease lockdowns with caution

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-04-22 09:37
Medical staff from Georges Pompidou European hospital wave to neighbours and residents on their balconies who applaud to support healthcare workers amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Paris, France, April 21, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

BRUSSELS/GENEVA -- More European nations have decided to tentatively relax restrictions with various requirements being introduced to the public.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Europe has registered 1,073,947 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 103,989 deaths as of 10:00 a.m. CET (0800 GMT) on April 21.

RELAXING LOCKDOWN

Despite the figures, more European countries have started or blueprinted their way back to normal life with cautious easing of some restrictions put into place to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Cyprus took its first steps on Tuesday to gradually relax coronavirus restrictions and restart the economy, with the government saying that it expects an economic recession.

President Nicos Anastasiades presided over meetings of trade unions, employers' associations, hoteliers, contractors and big land developers to hear their views before announcing plans for the gradual relaxation of restrictions.

Strict restrictions, including an unprecedented peace-time curfew, are in force until April 30.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the government has relaxed measures against the coronavirus spread by partly reopening primary schools as of May 11.

Meanwhile, Austria, one of the first European countries loosening lockdown, took further steps. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced that the exit restrictions imposed by his government will be relaxed and all shops may reopen from May 1.

School operations will also gradually resume from May 4, while restaurants, coffee houses and worship services are due to reopen from May 15, said Kurz.

In Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries in the continent, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that his country might gradually reopen its economy from the strict terms of its six-week-long national coronavirus lockdown starting from May 4.

Conte said the specific rules to be in place after May 4 would be announced later this week.

"We must act on the basis of a national plan, which will take into account the specifics of our territory," Conte said via social media. The prime minister allowed a handful of business sectors to reopen, including stores selling products for babies, bookstores, and dry cleaners, a week ago.

Italy saw fewer ICU and hospitalized patients as COVID-19 death toll has climbed to 24,648 as of Tuesday.

In Spain, the other European country hit hard by the coronavirus which has registered 21,282 deaths as of Tuesday, the cabinet had approved Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's request to extend the current "state of alarm" for a further 15 days, up to May 9, according to the government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montero.

The proposal will be debated in Parliament on Wednesday and one of the new conditions of the extended "state of alarm" will allow children under age 14 to go outside for short periods of time after April 27.

REQUIREMENTS

However, the governments have made various requirements in the process of the easing with an aim to prevent a possible rebound of infections.

For instance, the "relief" for children in Spain will be strictly limited. The government spokesperson Montero elaborated that the children will only be able to leave their residency accompanied by an adult for purposes already permitted by the "state of alarm," such as "going to the supermarket, pharmacy or a financial institution."

In Germany, the federal states of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Berlin, Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Saxony-Anhalt on Tuesday announced some form of obligation to wear a protective face mask in certain public areas.

The decision came after Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a "gradual" and "cautious" exit strategy from COVID-19 measure.

Thuringia, Bavaria and Mecklenburg Western Pomerania had already announced the obligation to wear a face mask earlier. Saxony, where the face mask regulation has been in effect since Monday, was the first German state to make mask-wearing compulsory.

Bavaria's Minister President Markus Soeder stressed on Monday that mouth and nose protection would play a "very central role" in containing a further spread of the coronavirus.

In most German states, the obligation to wear a face mask or other protective cover will start during the course of next week.

In Austria, Chancellor Kurz also emphasized that services will be allowed to open with requirements that include wearing masks, keeping social distance and a restriction on the number of guests.

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