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How Europe Is Beginning to Reopen After COVID-19 Lockdown

By Angela Charlton and Barry Hatton, Associated Press

Apr 30, 2020

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People buy fruit and vegetables at a shop in Naples, which allowed cafés and pizzerias to reopen for delivery on Monday, April 27.

Photo by AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

People buy fruit and vegetables at a shop in Naples, which allowed cafés and pizzerias to reopen for delivery on Monday, April 27.

Each European country has set its own rules and regulations for letting its residents head outdoors.

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Europeans are starting to venture outside after weeks of confinement, scarred by a virus that has overwhelmed some of the world’s best healthcare systems and killed more than 120,000 in the continent, yet yearning to rediscover signs of normalcy. Leaving lockdown looks different in Berlin than it does in Madrid, however, as each government sets its own rules and pace for letting Europe’s half a billion people taste freedom again. Here are some of the measures being rolled out: 

France

France outlined a plan Tuesday to open up some shops, farmers’ markets, schools, and small museums starting May 11—but only if the country can keep infections under control.

Restaurants, parks, major museums, and other businesses that underpin the all-important tourism economy will stay shuttered until at least June 2. French people will be allowed to venture farther from home starting May 11, but only up to 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.

To ward off a second wave of infections, France will conduct at least 700,000 virus tests a week, and everyone taking public transport, taxis, or shared car services will be required to wear a mask. The French government is also working on a virus tracing app, which has raised privacy concerns.

Authorities say more than 23,000 people have died with the virus in French hospitals and nursing homes.

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Manon, 13, from France, dances at the Catalunya square in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, April 27, 2020.

Spain

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Spain’s seven-week-old lockdown is one of the world’s strictest, and its government announced Tuesday a cautious, four-phase approach toward “new normal.” Children under 14, who were kept inside for weeks, are now allowed to go outside for an hour a day. Everyone will be able to leave their homes to play sports, do exercise, or take a stroll starting Saturday. 

If they’ve taken necessary precautions, street stores can open May 11, but not malls. Tourist accommodation can also reopen, except for common areas. 

In Phase Two, restaurants, museums, and monuments can allow visitors up to a third of normal capacity. Educational establishments will reopen for children under age six whose parents are both at work, for children who have fallen behind in their studies, and for students to sit university entrance exams. Schools will not fully reopen before September.

The rollback will occur at different speeds in the country’s provinces. Each will be measured according to “markers,” such as the number of infections, the economic status of people in the area, and the local health service’s capacity, before advancing to the next phase.

A total of 23,822 deaths in Spain are attributed to the new coronavirus, with more than 210,000 people infected.

Italy

Italy, hit earliest and hardest of any country in Europe, has already begun a gradual reopening, with some strategic industries such as car exporters allowed to resume production this week.

Starting May 4, Italians will be able move around a bit more freely within their regions, including in parks—which have been closed for weeks to ward off a virus that has killed more than 27,000. Funerals will be allowed, but Catholic churches will still be barred from holding Mass.

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On May 18, retail shops and museums can reopen, and soccer clubs and other teams can restart training. Bars and restaurants, beauty salons, and barber shops can reopen starting in June. Schools remain closed until September.

Germany

Germany, which has lost 6,000 people to the virus but has managed to contain it better than other world powers, began its first steps to ease restrictions on April 20, allowing smaller shops to reopen while sticking to strict social-distancing measures and bans on large gatherings of people.

Everyone using public transport or shopping must wear a mask. Shops of up to 800 square meters (8,600 square feet) have been permitted to reopen, along with some other businesses like car dealers and bicycle shops.

German schools have been closed since mid-March and the government hopes to be able to reopen them step by step from May 4, with the oldest students returning first. Hairdressers are also allowed to open then.

People walk by the ancient agora with the Acropolis seen in the background in the traditional Plaka district of Athens.

Greece

Greece’s prime minister outlined a plan Tuesday for lifting a lockdown that has been credited with keeping the coronavirus death toll and number of critically ill patients low.

Outdoor individual sports will be permitted again starting May 4, and bookshops, hair salons, and electronic stores will reopen. Restaurants, hotels, and malls won’t open until June 1. Playgrounds and public beaches will remain closed, and travel outside of people’s home region is off limits for now. Working hours will be staggered to reduce interaction, and masks will be compulsory on public transport, at hair salons, and in hospitals and strongly recommended elsewhere.

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High school seniors will restart classes on May 11, followed a week later by the rest of high school and junior high grades. Primary schools and kindergartens will remain closed and might open on June 1. Children considered at risk will continue studying at home.

Britain

Pubs, Rolls-Royce factories, souvenir shops, and schools are among the many facilities still closed in Britain, which is about a week or two behind other countries in Europe with regard to the coronavirus pandemic.

With more than 21,000 coronavirus deaths recorded in U.K. hospitals, the government has been careful not to openly consider how to ease the most onerous lockdown measures, currently due to last at least until May 7. 

In an early sign of change, however, the National Health Service is starting to restore services put on pause to deal with the pandemic, starting with cancer care and mental health services. 

Barry Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Nicole Winfield in Rome, Derek Gatopoulos and Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, David Rising in Berlin, and Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.

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