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Spain begins to ease its strict lockdown from today, as parts of Europe slowly open up

Italy and France plan to ease restrictions in the coming week, while the UK isn’t quite there yet.

People do exercises at the Arco de Triunfo in Barcelona, Spain.
People do exercises at the Arco de Triunfo in Barcelona, Spain.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

SPAIN’S CITIZENS HAVE returned to jogging, cycling and exercising in public for the first time after 48 days of confinement ended today, as some European nations cautiously eased virus lockdowns.

As governments across the globe weigh how to lift restrictions to restart economies against the risk of new infections, US authorities brought some hope by approving an experimental drug for emergency use on coronavirus patients.

The decision was the latest step in a global push to find treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the world economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The virus has killed nearly 239,000 people worldwide and caused more than 3.3 million confirmed infections since it emerged in China late last year.

With signs the pandemic in their hardest-hit nations is slowing, European countries and some parts of the US have begun to lift restrictions to try to inject life into economies crippled by weeks of closure.

From Madrid to Mallorca, Spaniards flocked to the streets as they were allowed to exercise and walk freely outside as the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country with one of the highest number of fatalities at nearly 25,000.

“After so many weeks in confinement, I badly wanted to go out, run, see the world,” said financial advisor Marcos Abeytua in Madrid’s Chueca district who got up a 7am to enjoy some time outside. “Yesterday, I was like a child on Christmas Eve.”

Near the city’s Retiro Park, many residents were out to running, sometimes in groups, as a policeman used a loudspeaker to urge them to keep out of the deserted avenue and on the pavement.

Crowds of runners mingled with cyclists and skateboarders enjoying sports in the sun in Barcelona’s seaside neighbourhood.

“This all seems a bit crazy to me. On the first day we get some freedom I don’t see any safe distancing at all,” said Christian, an Italian living in Barcelona. “I didn’t expect to see thousands of people running like this.”

daily-life-in-malaga-spain-amid-coronavirus-crisis-02-may-2020 People work out at Malagueta beach amid the coronavirus crisis. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez however said masks would be obligatory on public transport from Monday, and children and elderly will still face some time restrictions on when they can go outside.

Spain, Germany, Austria and Scandinavian nations are all gradually easing lockdowns as the virus cases slow though they will keep in place social distancing measures, the use of masks and testing to try to track infections.

France has decided to extend a health emergency by two months until 24 July, but still plans to lift parts of its lockdown on 11 May (including reopening primary schools).

Health Minister Olivier Veran told a news conference that to lift the health emergency, which began on 24 March, at the same time would be premature and carry the risk of a resurgence of the outbreak.

“We are going to have to perform a long-distance run,” Veran said, adding he was aware that the French people had already been asked for “colossal efforts” in the fight against the virus.

As part of the planned measures, Veran said anybody entering France will have to remain confined for two weeks. This would typically concern “French people who travelled abroad and who want to come home”, he said.

Anyone arriving from abroad and infected with the virus would be obliged by law to be quarantined.

Infected people already in France will, however, not be forced to accept isolation and treatment, as “we trust French people’s sense of responsibility”, Veran said.

“We are going to have to live with the virus for a while,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said after Saturday’s cabinet meeting deciding the extension.

Learning to live with the virus, that’s what’s at stake in the coming months.

france-paris-covid-19-film-on-the-wall Residents watch a film screened on the wall at the rue Daubenton in Paris. 1 May 2020. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The UK, meanwhile, has announced 621 more deaths in the coronavirus outbreak, taking the overall cumulative toll to 28,131, just behind Europe’s worst-hit country Italy.

The British government said that 182,260 people had tested positive for Covid-19, up 4,806 on yesterday. But hospital admissions had fallen, it added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that the country had “past the peak” of the virus, as he comes under mounting pressure to ease lockdown restrictions imposed in late March.

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A review is expected this Thursday and Johnson said the government would outline a plan to lift social distancing measures that would keep transmissions rates down.

“The very strong advice today is that moment has not yet come,” housing minister Robert Jenrick told a daily briefing on the government’s response to the outbreak. 

Italy‘s death toll jumped by the highest number since 21 April, after previously uncounted deaths outside hospitals were added in.

The 474 fatalities reported by the civil protection service took the Mediterranean country’s total since February to 28,710, second only to the US.

But the toll included 282 uncounted deaths in April that Milan’s Lombardy region said it had reported to the civil protection service on Saturday.

The northern region recorded most of Italy’s initial deaths, and its toll now accounts for just under half of the country’s total.

Italy’s real number of fatalities is believed to be substantially higher than the official figure because few deaths in care homes or in the community are reported.

After a two-month shutdown, from Monday Italians will be allowed to stroll in parks and visit relatives. Restaurants can open for takeout and wholesale stores can resume business.

“We must maintain social distancing, maximum hygiene levels, and masks. We’ve done our bit to the best of our ability. From Monday, it’s up to you,” emergency response official Domenico Arcuri said at a press conference.

I implore you, do not lower your guards.

In Russia, though, authorities reported the largest increase in coronavirus cases with the new infections rising by nearly 10,000 in a single day.

In Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, around 2% of the population is infected by Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, officials said.

“The threat is apparently on the rise,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, said on his blog earlier today.

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