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Coronavirus: Small shops reopen in Germany, Spain allows children to go outside to play

There were encouraging signs in the battle against the virus across the continent over the weekend.

A sign in a closed shop in Hamburg
A sign in a closed shop in Hamburg
Image: DPA/PA Images

PARTS OF EUROPE which have been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic have taken steps towards returning to normality today.

There were encouraging signs in the battle against the virus across the continent over the weekend, when daily death tolls in Italy, Spain, France and Britain all dropped.

In Germany, which been among the most successful in Europe to contain the disease and where authorities have declared it “under control”, smaller shops in some regions are set to re-open today.

Larger shops and those in major German cities will open at a later date as part of efforts to ease restrictions, which will also see some students go back to school from 4 May.

The majority of shops smaller than 800 square metres will be allowed to welcome customers again, in a first wave of relaxations to strict curbs on public life introduced last month.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional state premiers announced the decision to reopen last week, although they have been careful to cast it as no more than a cautious first step.

While the first shops will open their doors today, each of Germany’s 16 states is set to lift the restrictions at a slightly different pace.

In some states such as the capital Berlin, reopening will take a little longer. A ban on gatherings of more than two people and a requirement to stand more than 1.5 metres apart from others in public areas remain in force.

Merkel, who has been praised for her handling of the coronavirus crisis, is hoping to reinvigorate the ailing German economy, which officially entered into recession last week.

‘Under control’

With 139,897 confirmed cases and 4,294 deaths as of Sunday, Germany has been one of the countries worst hit by Covid-19, but also one of the quickest to react. 

On Friday, the Robert Koch Institute for public health announced that the rate of infection – the number of people each ill person contaminates – had dropped below one for the first time, leading Health Minister Jens Spahn to declare the virus “under control”.

Yet Merkel, who was herself quarantined for two weeks earlier this month before testing negative for the virus, has warned that Germany’s success remains “fragile”.

“We will not be able to go back to our normal lives for a long time,” said her conservative party colleague Armin Laschet, the state premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, the country’s most populous region.

Elsewhere, Norway will also allow children to go back to nurseries from today, despite some reservations from parents over the decision.

Hard-hit Spain, where a nationwide lockdown was recently extended, also said it would ease restrictions to allow children time outside.

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Spain registered 410 new fatalities from the coronavirus yesterday, its lowest daily count in almost a month.

Authorities are even starting to close some makeshift facilities which were set up to relieve the country’s health system, including a morgue at a Madrid ice rink.

France also said a nationwide lockdown in force for a month was beginning to bear fruit.

“We are scoring points against the epidemic,” said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

On the other side of the world, New Zealand has announced that it will ease a nationwide lockdown next week, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying: “We have stopped a wave of devastation”.

- © AFP 2020

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