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Several EU countries begin slow return to normal life

April 14, 2020

Some businesses are slowly opening doors in Austria, Italy and Spain after strict lockdown measures. But the World Health Organization has warned that the region has "not yet seen the peak" in COVID-19 cases.

Austrian shopper with mask buying plants
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jaeger

Across Europe, officials pointed to general coronavirus downward trends as they began rolling out the easing of strict lockdown measures after the Easter holidays.

Austria reopens thousands of shops

Austria became one of the first European countries to relax its coronavirus measures. With the number of new infections stabilizing, thousands of shops nationwide reopened their doors on Tuesday following a one-month lockdown.

Small businesses, as well as hardware and gardening stores, are allowed to reopen — but all shoppers are required to wear masks and maintain social distance. 

Shopping centers, larger stores and hairdressers are set to reopen from May 1, while restaurants and hotels could resume progressively from mid-May, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

Austria's modified lockdown is in place until the end of April.

Coronavirus Spanien Barcelona Lockerung Ausgangssperre
The Spanish Red Cross hands out free protective face masks to citizens at Sants Estacio railway station in BarcelonaImage: Reuters/N. Doce

Spain greenlights some on-site work

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday allowed some workers to return to work, with police and the Red Cross handing out face masks at train stations to commuters. Only a few commuters were seen using Madrid's usually busy public transport.

Some workers in factories and the construction industry were permitted to resume work as the Spanish government looked to restart manufacturing.

Retail shops and services were still required to remain closed and white-collar workers still had to work from home. Experts warned that many companies don't have access to enough health equipment to protect employees.

Some workers said the easing of restrictions could trigger a rise in coronavirus infections.

Shops, bars and public spaces are scheduled to stay closed until at least April 26.

Read more: Spain — from tourism hotspot to contagion hotbed

Rome shop
Shops selling goods for babies are now able to reopen in ItalyImage: Reuters/A. Lingria

Italy eases restrictions — though with some confusion

Italy has allowed bookshops, stationery stores and shops selling baby clothes to reopen on a trial basis on Tuesday, although it officially has a nationwide lockdown until May 4. Some regional leaders, however, have opted to keep bookstores and stationery shops closed, including the hard-hit northern regions of Lombardy and Piemonte. 

The Italian government decided to ease restrictions — whilst still requiring the same social -distancing and sanitary measures  — after it saw a decline in the number of day-to-day infections.

Read more:Italians blow their dough on dough

Denmark's primary schools

In Scandinavia, Denmark is set to reopen daycare centers and schools for children from first to fifth grades on Wednesday.

The World Health Organization said it will issue a six-step guidance on measures that need to be taken before easing any restrictions. 

"The overall world outbreak, 90 percent of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet," WHO spokeswoman Dr. Margaret Harris said Tuesday in a press briefing in Geneva. 

Read more: Germans considering relaxing coronavirus restrictions

Vienna stores coronavirus
Do-it-yourself stores have reopened in ViennaImage: AFP/APA/H. Fohringer

EU urges coordination

The European Commission has called on EU countries to coordinate coronavirus exit plans to avoid flareups, as some member states begin, or consider, easing restrictions. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested that a single smartphone app can be used across the European Union to assist member states coordinate when and how to ease coronavirus lockdown rules and ensure safer measures across the bloc.

"It's important we don't end up with a patchwork of 27 coronavirus apps and 27 data protection regimes, but coordinate as best as possible," Maas said in an interview on Tuesday with Germany's Funke media group.

He said such an app would help ease travel and border closures across the EU and also safeguard personal privacy.

mvb/stb (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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