How the lockdown is being lifted (very slowly) across Europe
As the coronavirus outbreak shows signs of peaking in Europe, many countries are planning on easing draconian lockdown measures one bit at a time.
Austria is set to be the among the first EU members to start relaxing the rules after setting out a detailed plan yesterday to reopen smaller shops on April 14 and then larger ones in May. Denmark plans on lifting its lockdown after Easter but will ask people to ‘work in a more staggered way’ to prevent overcrowding on public transport.
‘Phase two’ of Italy’s fight against coronavirus aims to teach the nation to ‘live with the virus’ with widespread tests and the wearing of face masks. Provided new infections remain low, Germany plans to re-open schools on a regional basis and allow some restaurants to let people in.
As economies across the continent have taken a hit from sweeping emergency measures, many will be raring to get back to business, but officials have warned society can’t go back ‘from 0 to 100’ overnight.
Having suffered the most Covid-19 fatalities in the world, Italy is now planning to ‘create the conditions to live with the virus’ until a vaccine is created.
The country has recorded 16,523 deaths but after the daily rate fell to its lowest in two weeks on Sunday, the government is now considering easing its stricter emergency measures.
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Many Italian companies and academics are pressing the government to reopen factories to prevent an economic catastrophe, as the world watches how the first western country to impose a lockdown can extricate itself from the unprecedented measures.
Rome imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 9 when the new virus, which emerged in China, had already killed more than 460 people.
Two weeks later, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that non-essential businesses, including car, clothing and furniture production, would have to close until April 3.
Health minister Roberto Speranza told La Republica: ‘There are difficult months ahead. Our task is to create the conditions to live with the virus,’ at least until a vaccine is developed.’
Italy’s lockdown is set to last until April 13 but is expected to be extended. As non-essential shops and businesses are gradually re-opened, strict social-distancing guidelines will have to remain in place and more rules are likely to be put in place requiring people to use personal protective equipment such as face masks.
So far, officials have said that work restrictions would probably be lifted on a sector-by-sector rather than geographical basis.
A hospital network designed specifically for Covid-19 patients would be set up to help relieve some of the burden from intensive care doctors.
Testing would be made more widespread and ‘contact tracing’ would be extended using smartphone apps to make it easier to locate and contain a second wave of outbreaks.
There have been more than 132,000 confirmed cases in Italy so far.
Like most countries in Europe, Austria has ordered non-essential shops to close their doors and for people only to venture outside for a specific set of reasons.
But as the daily increase in infections fell to single digits, the Alpine republic announced yesterday plans to start re-opening stores while expanding a requirement to wear face masks.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the decision to act early and with bold restrictions is starting to pay off.
Provided Austrians stick to lockdown measures for now and infections don’t suddenly spike, non-essential shops of 400 square metres or less are to re-open along with DIY and garden stores.
If all goes well other shops, hairdressers and shopping malls would be allowed to open their doors from May 1 but would have to maintain a limit of one customer per 20 square metres.
Shoppers are already required to wear masks at supermarkets and pharmacies of more than 400 metres and this requirement will be extended to public transport as the lockdown is eased.
Hotels and restaurants could start to re-open in mid-May along with schools, while public events will remain banned until the end of June.
As of yesterday Austria had recorded more than 12,000 coronavirus cases and 220 deaths.
As soon it achieves an infection rate of less than one person per patient, Germany is happy to start easing its social restrictions ‘step-by-step’.
Schools could be re-opened on a regional basis and shops and restaurants could be allowed to go back to business, as long as they stick to a limit on the number of people in closed rooms.
Wearing face masks may also be made compulsory in public buildings and on trains or buses. Chancellor Angela Merkel has not set a date for restrictions being lifted.
Germany is among countries supporting the idea of antibody tests being distributed to allow those who are likely to have already caught and developed immunity to coronavirus to go back to work.
This would also mean protective medical equipment could be prioritised for those who don’t have immunity, but some scientists have warned we might not know enough about Covid-19 yet to sanction so-called ‘immunity passports’.
Similarly to Italy, Germany is looking at how South Korea got its numbers down through phone tracking.
Today the country’s public health authority launched a smartwatch app in partnership with health-technology startup Thryve to help monitor the spread of Covid-19 and analyse whether measures to contain the pandemic are working.
The Corona-Datenspende (Corona Data Donation) app gathers vital signs from volunteers wearing smartwatches or fitness trackers – including pulse, temperature and sleep – to analyse whether they are symptomatic of the flu-like illness.
Results will be represented in an interactive online map that would make it possible – together with other data inputs – for the health authorities and the general public to assess new infections down to postcode level.
Germany has the fourth highest COVID-19 caseload behind the United States, Spain and Italy at nearly 100,000 but has kept fatalities down to a relatively low 1,600 thanks to early and extensive testing.
Authorities have been more cautious in using digital technology to fight the coronavirus, due to strict data privacy laws and distrust of any surveillance measures reminiscent of Nazi- or communist-era rule.
Germany has reported more than 100,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 1,800 deaths.
With 98,984 cases and 8,911 deaths, France is not quite at the point of easing its lockdown.
Interior minister Laurent Nunez said ‘the end of confinement is not yet on the cards and a deadline has not been set’.
Last week Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said lifting measures would not be done in one go and said the government is ‘fighting hour by hour’ to prevent shortages of medicines.
As businesses were ordered to close in a bid to lessen the number of patients filling hospital wards, France’s overall economic activity had been slashed by 35%.
Authorities in Paris have banned all outdoor sports activities between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. after residents took to the streets in numbers to enjoy the weekend’s sunny weather.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo and police prefect Didier Lallement say Parisians should limit their movement to urgent or indispensable outings.
Starting tomorrow, Parisians can only exercise outdoors when a ‘street crowd is at its lowest’.
Locals were previously allowed to exercise outdoors for an hour while carrying a form explaining the reason why they were going out.
France has nearly 9,000 dead and some 100,000 known infections across the country.
Faced with one of the worst outbreaks in the world, the rate of infection is starting to flatten, giving hope Spanish authorities.
If the promising trend continues economic restrictions could be lifted after the Easter break and some non-essential staff could go back to work.
But shops, restaurants and bars are likely to remain closed until at least April 26.
Economy minister Nadia Calvino says the government are discussing an exit strategy and said it ‘cannot be a 0 to 100 process in one day’.
One million testing kits were due to arrive in Spain on Sunday and Monday with the aim of rolling out a ‘rapid screening’ programme in nursing homes and hospitals.
It is not clear whether workers going back to business will have to wear face masks or gloves by law.
Today the Spanish death rate rose again after falling for four consecutive days.
Another 743 patients have lost their lives over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of fatalities in the country to 13,798.
The health ministry said total number of Covid-19 cases rose to 140,510 from 135,032 yesterday.
As long as there is not a surge in new infections, prime minister Mette Frederiksen said she hopes for a ‘gradual, controlled and quiet reopening of Denmark’ after Easter.
The Danish government enforced a lockdown on March 11, closing schools, nurseries, restaurants, cafes and gyms and closing the borders to most foreigners.
The government wants people to go back to work ‘in a more staggered way’ so public transport isn’t overloaded, but it is not clear how this will be achieved.
Frederiksen added: ‘We are not going to be able to squeeze up close together in trains, buses and subways in the way we have become accustomed to. Or stand very close together with a whole lot of other people and have a good party together.’
Denmark said it is planning to reopen nurseries and primary schools for pupils aged up to 11 on April 15.
Frederiksen said her government planned to open schools for younger students first because the requirement to care for them created a greater burden on society.
She said restaurants, bars and cafes would remain closed for now, and churches, libraries, sports venues and shopping centres would remain shut until at least May 10.
Border controls and a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people will be kept in place until that same date at the very earliest.
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