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In Sweden, people are relaxing on cafe terraces. Meanwhile in Spain, citizens can barely leave their homes. As European governments try to contain COVID-19, they're taking differing approaches to lifting restrictions.
FRANCE: It all depends on infection rate
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has presented plans to unwind a nationwide lockdown starting May 11, but only if the rate of infections stays below 3,000 per day. The plan, which is yet to be confirmed by the parliament, would see non-essential shops reopen. Schools would also gradually reopen — starting with primary schools and kindergartens, with high schools to follow from May 18. Face masks would be obligatory on public transport, and recommended while shopping. The Paris metro would be operating at around 70% capacity, but people would be encouraged to continue working from home. "We will have to learn to live with the virus," stressed Philippe. France is also set to extend its testing capacity to 700,000 per week.
ITALY: Conte outlines phased plan
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has decided that reopening society will come gradually in Italy, also hit hard by the pandemic. A series of restrictions will be lifted on May 4, allowing the country's population of 60 million to once again be able to exercise outdoors and move around their own regions. More restrictions will be lifted on May 18 and June 1, in an attempt to gradually get the economy running again. The announcement that bars and restaurants would only be allowed to reopen on June 1 triggered disappointment in the sector, with the lobbying group FIPE, which represents 300,000 small businesses, saying "enough is enough!" The Catholic Church has also expressed dismay that no mention had been made of easing restrictions on religious services. Schools will remain closed until after the summer holidays, reopening in September.
SPAIN: Children are now allowed out, but not for long
For the first time in six weeks of complete lockdown, children were once again heard laughing on the streets of Spain on Sunday. However, strict rules are still in place for citizens in one of Europe's worst-hit countries. They can only leave the house for a maximum of one hour between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and must remain within a 1-kilometer (about half a mile) radius of home. A maximum of three children per household are allowed out at one time, with only one parent. The government has announced that if the number of COVID-19 cases remains stable, from May 2 citizens will be able to go out with others from the same household. Jogging will also be allowed.
PORTUGAL: Government promising more masks
The Portuguese government extended its lockdown measures to May 2 in mid-April, promising to provide more personal protective equipment. It said that stores and businesses would gradually be able to reopen if there was a slowdown in the spread of the virus.
UNITED KINGDOM: Johnson back at work
Returning to Downing Street on Monday for the first time since recovering from COVID-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked British citizens for giving up their basic freedoms during the lockdown imposed on the country at the end of March. He said the country was starting to "turn the tide" on the outbreak, but made no mention of when restrictions would be lifted. With the country's economy facing a massive recession and debt of historical proportions, the prime minister called on businesses to "contain [their] impatience." Johnson's government has been accused of reacting too slowly to the pandemic, by not introducing more tests and not providing enough protective gear for medical workers. Nevertheless, the calls for easing the restrictions are becoming louder
BELGIUM: Home office to become the norm
In Belgium, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has submitted a plan for a progressive lockdown that is similar to Italy's strategy. During the first phase (starting May 4), an increased number of public transport vehicles will be in use. Wearing a face mask, however, will be mandatory on buses and trains for passengers aged 12 and older, Wilmes said. Every citizen will receive a mask made of cloth free of charge. Shops will be closed initially, except those of a business-to-business nature (meaning they don't have private individuals as customers). Provided they maintain the required distance, Belgians will be allowed from May 4 to engage in sports activities with two other people who do not belong to the same household. Working from home should remain the norm, and people should still leave their homes only on an exceptional basis, for example for the purposes of shopping, going to work or seeing a doctor, Wilmes said. During the next stage, starting May 11, all shops will be allowed to reopen while adhering to strict guidelines. Hairdressers will follow on May 18, which is also the date from which school education will progressively return back to normal.
NETHERLANDS: School starts next week
In the Netherlands, daycare centers and elementary schools will re-open on May 11. The Netherlands' National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) believes the relaxation is justified as health hazards for children are very limited, they don't have to maintain a distance of 1.5 meters between each other and maintain that distance from an adult only if this is possible. Secondary schools are to follow on June 1. Initially, children are to be given lessons in small groups only. Children and adolescents are again allowed to engage in sports activity in clubs. All other bans, however, were extended by at least three weeks. Large events such as festivals and sports competitions – including professional soccer – will continue to be banned until September 1.