Italy, Poland and Hungary prepare to open parks and restaurants while Germany is to open schools

Europe edges out of lockdown: Italy, Poland and Hungary prepare to open parks and restaurants from tomorrow while Germany begins to open some schools next week

Europe today prepared for a further cautious easing of coronavirus restrictions following signs the pandemic may be slowing, with hard-hit Italy set to follow Spain in allowing people outside.

Spaniards flocked to the streets on Saturday to jog, cycle and rollerskate for the first time after 48 days of confinement as Italy is due start gradually relaxing its strict lockdown measures tomorrow.

More than 242,000 people have been killed and 3.4 million infected worldwide by the virus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.

With signs that the spread of the contagion has been brought under control, parts of Europe and the United States have begun to lift restrictions to try to inject life into economies crippled by weeks of closures and ease the pressure from populations wearying of captivity.

After a two-month lockdown in Italy – with the second-highest number of virus deaths in the world – people on Monday will be allowed to stroll in parks and visit relatives. Restaurants can open for takeaway and wholesale stores can resume business.

And in Hungary, some stores and museums, outdoor spaces of restaurants and hotels, beaches and baths can reopen from Monday – but restrictions will remain in the capital Budapest, which has recorded about 70 per cent of the country‘s cases.

Germany will also continue its easing at the start of the week, with schools in some areas expected to reopen, while Slovenia and Poland will allow some businesses and public spaces to operate again.

France has said it will partially lift its lockdown on May 11, including the reopening of primary schools.

But with health experts warning the disease could hit hard once again, they are sticking to social distancing measures, the use of masks and more testing to try to track infections. 

‘We must maintain social distancing, maximum hygiene levels, and masks. We‘ve done our bit to the best of our ability. From Monday, it‘s up to you,‘ Italian emergency response official Domenico Arcuri said.

Despite the lingering concerns, there was joy and relief in Spain on Saturday, where people were allowed to exercise and walk freely after the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country with one of the highest number of deaths at more than 25,000.

‘After so many weeks in confinement I badly wanted to go out, run, see the world,‘ said financial advisor Marcos Abeytua in Madrid. ‘Yesterday I was like a child on Christmas Eve.‘

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany will continue its easing on Monday, while Slovenia, Poland and Hungary will allow public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.

With health experts warning the disease could hit hard once again, governments are sticking to measures to control the spread of the virus and more testing to try to track infections even as they relax curbs on movement.

Face masks will be mandatory on public transport starting Monday in Spain, where people were allowed to go outdoors on Saturday after a 48-day lockdown.

During Italy‘s last day in total lockdown today, the partial easing of strict coronavirus measures was causing anxiety and confusion rather than elation.

Across the country, attempts to make plans for the first day of freedom were hampered by uncertainty over the rules. The government has a list of permitted activities, but regions are also making up their own regulations. 

Pietro Garlanti, a 53-year-old cleaner, as he queued at a kiosk said: ‘I‘m hoping this morning‘s paper will clear up some of the many questions about what we can and can‘t do. I want to take my old mum to the sea-side, can I?‘

Vienna Airport to offer coronavirus tests to avoid quarantine

Vienna Airport will offer onsite coronavirus testing from Monday to enable passengers entering Austria to avoid having to be quarantined for 14 days.

Passengers arriving at the airport have been required to present a health certificate showing a negative COVID-19 result which is no older than four days, or go into quarantine.

From Monday passengers can have a molecular biological (polymerise chain reaction or PCR) COVID-19 test at the airport, and get the result in two to three hours, the airport said.

‘Air travel, whether business journeys or urgent trips…will thus become safer and easier,‘ it added on today. 

Last month Emirates, in coordination with Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said it was the first airline to conduct on-site rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers.

Austrian quarantines that have already begun can be ended if the person is found to be clear of COVID-19, Vienna Airport said.

The airport tests, which cost 190 euros ($209), can also be taken by passengers leaving Vienna to demonstrate their virus-free status at their destination.

Vienna Airport is operating scheduled flights to Doha, Dortmund, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Lisbon, Minsk and Sofia, as well as charter flights and business trips. It has landing bans in force from flights from high risk areas.

 Austria has recorded 15,526 cases of the new coronavirus, and 598 deaths. It has started to loosen its seven-week lockdown, with shopping centres, larger shops and service providers including hairdressers reopening last week.

Italian authorities have stressed that preventative measures are still needed.

None of that can be done in groups, however, so big family lunches are forbidden. Going to holiday homes is not allowed. And people cannot leave their own regions, except for emergencies or for health reasons.

Italy‘s 20 regions, however, have put their own spin on the rules. Two of them, Veneto and Calabria, even lifted their lockdowns early, opening to bars and restaurants with outdoor tables this week.

Liguria is thinking about letting people go sailing in small groups, and is reopening its beaches. So is the Marghe region, but for walks not sunbathing. Emilia-Romagna is keeping them closed, even to those who live by the sea.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte further puzzled many by telling Italians visits with ‘congiunti‘ were allowed.

The Italian word can mean either relatives or kinsmen. He then attempted to clarify by saying that extended to people who had ‘relationships of steady affection‘. Many asked did that mean lovers, friends and fiances were included?

The government was forced Saturday to publish a Q&A that specified people could see extended relatives – including, for example, the children of their cousins – but friends, however dear, were out of bounds.

Teacher Alessandra Coletti thought the confusion would be used ‘as an excuse by many for a sort of free- for-all‘.

The government hopes easing the coronavirus lockdown, the longest in the world, will reboot a crippled economy.

But Conte has warned he will be watching closely to see if the virus flares up again, and is ready to enforce localised lockdowns if necessary to stop the return of a pandemic which has claimed nearly 29,000 lives.

‘On the one hand, we‘re super excited for the reopening, we‘re already organising various activities the kids will be able to do with their grandparents outdoors, workshops in the garden, that sort of thing. The kids can‘t wait to see them,‘ said Marghe Lodoli, who has three children.

‘On the other hand, it‘s disorientating. The rules are not clear, and we‘re not sure if just using common sense will do.‘ 

Europe prepares for more lockdown easing as virus hopes rise

After weeks of staying at home, parts of Europe are tentatively opening up again, with the first phase of lifting lockdowns to start in several countries on Monday. 

– Italy –

In Italy some construction workers and workers in factories making industrial machinery, cars and luxury goods returned to work on April 27.

Starting Monday parks will open, with social distancing measures in place. People will be allowed to visit their relatives, in limited number.

Restaurants will open for takeout and their full reopening will begin on June 1, along with beauty salons and hairdressers.

All retail shops will open on May 18, along with museums and libraries.

Italy‘s schools remain closed until September.

– Spain –

Spain on April 26 began lifting one of the world‘s tightest lockdowns, allowing children outside accompanied by one parent.

Since May 2 Spaniards have been allowed out for exercise and to take walks under strict conditions.

From Monday, some small shops including hairdressers can receive customers individually by appointment. Bars and restaurants can sell take-away.

Wearing masks will be mandatory on public transport.

In some of the small Balearic and Canary Islands, most shops, museums and the outdoor areas of bars and restaurants will reopen with limited capacity, as will hotels with conditions.

This begins nationwide on May 11, with cinemas and theatres due to reopen two weeks after that.

Schools remain closed until September.

Spaniards must limit their movements to within their province until lockdown is fully lifted.

– Germany –

Germany on April 20 allowed some smaller shops to reopen.

Some schools will reopen on May 4.

Hairdresser will open again. Places of worship, museums, memorials, zoos, playgrounds can also reopen, or have already done so.

Cultural centres, bars, restaurants, playgrounds and sports stadiums remain closed.

Large gatherings are banned until at least August 31.

Wearing masks is obligatory on public transport and in shops.

– Austria –

Vienna has already authorised the reopening of certain non-essential businesses.

Large food shops, hairdressers and outdoor sports facilities (tennis, golf) reopened this weekend.

Travel restrictions have been lifted, gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed, with social distancing measures.

Restaurants are expected to reopen in mid-May.

Wearing masks is obligatory on public transport and in shops.

– Belgium –

Employees at businesses not open to the public will begin to return to their offices as of Monday, with the wearing of masks obligatory on public transport.

Most shops will reopen from May 11, provided they respect social distancing measures.

Some schools will reopen on May 18, with a maximum of 10 pupils per class.

Restaurants will being reopening from June 8 at the earliest.

– Portugal –

Some small shops will be allowed to reopen on Monday as will hairdressers and car dealers.

Wearing face masks will be mandatory on public transport.

Senior schools, museums, bars, restaurants and art galleries will open their doors once more from May 18. Cinemas will do so on June 1, with rules on social distancing.

Long-distance learning will remain the norm for primary and middle schools through to the end of the year.

– Slovenia –

Outdoor spaces of cafes and restaurant will reopen Monday, as will hairdressers, museums, libraries and professional sports training.

Wearing masks will be obligatory in enclosed public places, public transport and shops.

– Hungary –

Apart from in Budapest, outdoor spaces at cafes and restaurants will reopen Monday, along with beaches and public baths. Professional sports training will start again.

Wearing masks will be obligatory in public transport and shops.

– Poland –

Hotels, shopping centres, some cultural centres including libraries and certain museums will all open on Monday.

As of Wednesday, creches and children‘s playgrounds will be allowed to open but the local authorities in charge of them have said that the majority will remain closed.

– Croatia –

Some shops, museums, libraries and public transport reopened last week.

Religious gatherings have been allowed since Saturday.

On Monday, businesses involving close with customers such as hairdressers are allowed to open again.

On May 11, outdoor spaces at bars and restaurants will reopen and gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed. Children‘s playgrounds and kindergartens will reopen on a voluntary basis.

– Serbia –

On Monday cafes and restaurants will reopen with social distancing measures in place. Public transport, inner-city trains and buses travelling long distances will also open with the wearing of masks mandatory.

Shopping centres will reopen on May 8 and children‘s playgrounds on May 11.

Serbia‘s curfew will remain in place.

– Greece –

Nearly 10 percent of shuttered businesses will be allowed to reopen Monday, including hairdressers and beauty salons, libraries, electronic goods shops, sports shops and garden centres.

On May 11 all other shops will be allowed to reopen apart from shopping centres, which can open again on June 1.

– Nordic countries –

In Iceland, universities, museums and hairdressers will reopen on Monday.

Denmark and Norway, which have only imposed partial confinement measures, have been among the first European countries to ease them.

Danish children became the first to go back to school on April 15.

With pressure growing on governments worldwide to balance public health requirements with the need to ease intense economic pain, some nations in Asia announced similar measures.

South Korea – once the second worst-hit nation on the planet – said Sunday it would ease a ban on some gatherings and events as long as they ‘follow disinfection measures‘.

Thailand meanwhile allowed businesses such as restaurants, hair salons and outdoor markets to reopen on Sunday so long as social distancing was maintained and temperature checks carried out.

Despite the reopenings, experts have cautioned that many countries are still not through the worst of their outbreaks yet.

In the latest sign that the pandemic remains a serious threat, the Philippines suspended all flights into and out of the country for a week starting Sunday in a bid to ease the pressure on its congested quarantine facilities.

And to boost morale in what many expect to be a long fight, the armed forces of India – where the world‘s biggest lockdown is in force – organised tributes to the nation‘s medical workers, including helicopters showering petals on hospitals.

Elsewhere, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that mosques would reopen across large parts of the Islamic Republic, after they were closed in early March to try to contain the Middle East‘s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.

Rouhani warned, however, that while Iran would reopen ‘calmly and gradually‘, it should also prepare for ‘bad scenarios‘.

Across the Pacific, the pressure to ease virus measures is intense on leaders in the United States, where the economy has been hammered with tens of millions left jobless.

The United States has the most coronavirus deaths in the world and President Donald Trump is keen for a turnaround to help reduce the economic pain.

Florida is set to ease its lockdown on Monday, as authorities in other states wrestle with pressure from demonstrators – some armed – who have protested against the lockdowns.

There are signs that the pandemic is slowing down in some parts of the United States.

In New York City, the epicentre of the US outbreak, an emergency field hospital erected in Central Park is set to close, the Christian charity running it said Saturday, as virus cases decline in the city.

But authorities are wary of letting their guard down too fast, with fears the virus could wreak havoc in the most vulnerable communities in the United States.

A massive wave of infections is sweeping through America‘s prison population — the world‘s largest at 2.3 million – with coronavirus deaths on the rise in jails and penitentiaries across the country.

Riots over inadequate protection and slow responses by authorities have already taken place in prisons in Washington state and Kansas.

‘Things are beyond breaking point at this facility,‘ said Brian Miller, an officer at the Marion prison in Ohio. ‘Right now it‘s hell.‘

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