After weeks of strict lockdown, some European nations are easing measures that were put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Sarajevo – Countries throughout Europe have experienced exponential growth of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, surpassing China and becoming the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Italy and Spain were hit the hardest, accounting for the largest number of casualties in the European Union.
While many parts of the world are still experiencing the initial wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, European nations that were among the first to put their citizens under lockdown in March are beginning to reconsider measures imposed at the peak of the pandemic.
Now, as curves flatten and infection rates drop, some countries are relaxing restrictions on everyday life in Europe. Leaders are hoping to revive economies struck by the unexpected spread of the virus, coming up with measures that would allow schools and certain businesses to re-open.
COVID-19 slowly releases its grip on Europe
Germany permitted shops smaller than 800 square meters to open on Monday, April 20, including bookstores, clothing stores, bike stores, car dealerships, and florists. A few schools in Berlin allowed sit-down final exams, under the condition that all students wear face masks and respect social distancing.
Spain is also relaxing some of its measures. After nearly seven weeks of the stay at home order, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has been under a lot of pressure to lift the ban on child confinement. Effective April 27, children under the age of 12 will be allowed “some time” to spend outdoors, as stated by Sanchez during a speech on Saturday.
Czech Republic, one of the first nations to impose strict measures and place the entire country in lockdown, has allowed its residents to jog, hike, and cycle in non-urban areas without wearing face masks, given that they respect social distancing. Tennis courts, golf courses and a number of other non-essential shops were also given the green light to re-start their working hours. Czechs can now also travel abroad, providing that they self-quarantine for 14 days in return to the country.
Albania announced the re-opening of “low-risk businesses” on Sunday, including retail shops, furniture stores, and businesses selling flowers, jewelry, and children’s toys. Schools will remain closed and public transport is still suspended, while intercity travel is strictly prohibited.
Poland reopened its forests and parks on Monday and eased restrictions on the number of people allowed in shops.
Denmark, the second European country to introduce a lockdown after Italy, reopened daycare centers and primary schools on April 14. On Monday the nation also allowed hairdressers, tattoo artists and psychologists to start working again. Large gatherings are still banned until August, and strict social distancing measures remain in place.
In Austria, non-essential shops smaller than 400 square meters have been allowed to open. Craft and gardening supply stores, along with public parks, reopened with strict social distancing rules and obligatory masks. Larger shops including shopping centers will open on May 1. Restaurants and coffee shops will open mid-May. Schools will remain closed.
Norway opened its kindergartens on April 20. Primary schools, high schools, and universities will reopen next week, along with hair and beauty salons. Following the steps of South Korea and Singapore, the nation launched a COVID-19 tracking app that alerts users if they are near an infection hotspot or have been in contact with someone carrying the virus.
Italy remains in full lockdown for the most part, but some bookshops, laundromats, and children’s clothing stores have reopened in less-affected parts of the country. The nation will consider further measures on May 4.
While many have welcomed the loosening of strict measures, especially since the European economy is expected to take one of the hardest hits since WWII, health experts are wary of premature reopening of societies.
Hesitation in lifting lockdowns
World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom said on Monday that “the worst is yet ahead of us,” alluding to further spread of COVID-19.
On April 16, German chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed great concern about the reopening of the economy, bringing attention to the complexity of the pandemic and the difficulty of deciding when and how to lift lockdowns.
A scientist herself, Merkel explained that once social distancing measures are eliminated, there could be another wave of COVID-19, this time potentially wrecking the German health care system, as was the case in Singapore.
As of April 21, there are more than 2.5 million reported cases of COVID-19 around the world, with around 174,000 recorded deaths.