Countries in Europe, the continent most severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic, have recently started loosening restrictions for their nationals. How these countries open up their economies will hold important lessons for others such as India, which is in its third phase of lockdown scheduled to end on May 17.
Here’s a look at some European countries which have the highest cases of Covid-19 in the world and their exit strategies.
Spain: Lockdown strategy to enter a ‘new normal’
After the US, Spain has the highest Covid-19 infections at 227,000 and has reported more than 26,000 deaths so far. On April 28, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez presented a phased lockdown exit strategy for the country to enter a “new normal”. Beginning with phase 0 on May 4, the country will gradually lift restrictions, except for a few islands that opened up ahead, by the end of June. Apart from phase 0 which is for a week, the other phases stretch to two weeks each.
Phase 0 involved opening up takeaway facilities in restaurants and some establishments such as hair salons.
Under phase one, small businesses were opened, such as gyms by appointment to ensure social distancing norms are followed. Libraries were opened as well. The government allowed people in groups of up to 10 to gather.
The government, however, prohibited stores from announcing or carrying out commercial activities such as offering discounts that would encourage crowds.
Commercial premises were asked to limit their capacity to 30 per cent and had to gurantee a minimum distance of two metres between clients.
Further, those who could work remotely were urged to do the same throughout the de-escalation period.
In phase two, the govermment has allowed cinemas and theatres to open with a cap on their capacity up to a third of the people they can accomodate.
Phase 3, which begins June 8, could see all companies resume services. The protocols during this phase include personal protective equipment (PPE) suits for all employees.
Schools in Spain will remain closed till September, with the exception of some classes beginning May 25 for students younger than six years.
The country has mandated 14 days of quarantine for international travellers arriving in Spain.
Italy: Restrictions eased, but vary across regions
Italy has over 219,000 cases and has reported over 30,000 deaths. Italy reportedly admitted fewer than 1,000 people to intensive care units (ICUs) due to the coronavirus, the lowest figure since early March. The government started loosening restrictions from May 4, allowing people to go back to their permanent places of residence, even if it meant travelling between provinces, for emergencies.
Significantly, the rules for loosening restrictions vary across regions.
Activities such as construction, wholesale and manufacturing have also been allowed to resume since May 4. Further, people can go and meet their relatives, including their parents, spouses, partners and children if they stay within their province.
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While picnics and other such gatherings are forbidden, people can go to the park provided they follow social distancing guidelines. Beginning May 18, regional governments will be allowed to reopen bars, restaurants, hairdressers and beauty salons. As of now, bars and restaurants are open for takeaway, while in some provinces, home delivery of food was allowed throughout the lockdown, according to The Local.
Further, till May 18, people will also be required to produce a self-certification document to go out of the house.
Germany: Merkel leaves it to federal states to decide
The country has reported more than 170,000 cases and over 7,500 deaths. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has left the re-opening of the lockdown to the 16 federal states of the country and has emphasised that if cases in any of the areas surge, emergency measures will be applicable.
Shops have been allowed to reopen with social distancing measures and hygiene requirements. Schools, on the other hand, have been partially reopened for younger children and for those who are taking exams.
People from two different households are also allowed to meet each other, and, to the joy of many, the Bundesliga football matches have been allowed to resume.
The United Kingdom: ‘We have to become smarter’
On Sunday evening, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a televised address in order to give some idea of how the country was going to exit from its lockdown. “If you ask me am I absolutely certain that we won’t be living with this for a long time to come. It may be that we have to become ever more flexible, ever more agile, ever smarter in the way that we tackle, not just this infection, but potentially future infections as well,” Johnson said.
This was followed by the release of a document titled, “Our Plan To Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy” by the government.
The country has recorded more than 220,000 infections and over 32,000 deaths. As per the document for the “foreseeable future”, workers have been urged to work from home and those who cannot work from home have been asked to use private modes of transport.
Regarding schools, the government maintains that only two per cent of children are attending school (children of critical workers etc) “although all schools are working hard to deliver lessons remotely”. The government has urged local authorities and schools to encourage more children who would benefit from attending in person to do so.
The government has also advised people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. People are allowed to go outdoors and meet up with not more than one person from outside their household. They are also allowed to drive to outdoor spaces, irrespective of the distances.
France: One million children to rejoin school
France, which has recorded about 140,000 infections and more than 26,000 deaths till now, started lifting restrictions on Monday. As per local papers, while the pressure in the intensive care units is beginning to ease, over 22,000 are still hospitalised in the country, including over 2,700 serious cases in the intensive care units.
Meanwhile, Jean Castex, the senior official who has been appointed by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe to coordinate the deconfinement efforts, has warned in a report that “emergency reconfiguration” of measures may be required in case the number of infections spike.
Subject to a strict health protocol, over one million children are expected to join school on Tuesday, even as two fresh outbreaks have been reported in the country, one in a college in Chauvigny, in Vienne, where professionals had gathered to prepare for the beginning of the school year, and another following a funeral in Dordogne, French newspaper Le Monde reported. Even so, universities will remain shut till September.
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Apart from this, wearing masks is compulsory in all public transport for children over the age of 11 years. People have been allowed to travel within 100 km from their place of residence without requiring permissions. France has also decided to keep its borders with European nations closed until June 15.
Libraries, cemeteries, forests, places or worship, small museums, parks and gardens (in green zones), hairdressers and beauty salons will open and gatherings with a limited number of up to ten people will be allowed.
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