Italy and Spain might be two of the worst hit countries by COVID-19 in Europe – and indeed the world – but this week marks a gradual lifting of restrictions in both countries. And they’re not even the only ones to do so in the continent, with experts warning of a potential “deadly resurgence”.
Today, a historic albeit small step was taken in Italy’s fight against COVID-19, as the country opened a limited number of shops and businesses like bookshops, stationeries and retail stores for babies and young children.
Of course, strict rules on customer numbers and hygienes still need to be adhered to, and some of the peninsula’s worst hit regions like Lombardy are still very much closed.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of non-essential workers who can’t work from home (like those in construction) are getting ready to return to work this week in Spain, the second-worst-hit country in the world after USA.
But with Italy’s total death count now well over 20,000 and Spain close behind at over 18,000, many around the continent remain skeptical.
At least four other European countries which have been relatively more successful than Italy and Spain in containing the pandemic are also slowly lifting their restrictions.
Czech Republic’s was the first European government to impose the wearing of protective masks in public, with the country now. also becoming the first European country to relax its lockdown measures. With 6,000 total cases and 147 deaths, the country has already lifted some restrictions on exercise, opened some sports facilities and announced plans to reopen some shops this week.
Poland, on the other hand, is set to reopen some of its shops next week, as of 19th April. The country has reported over 7,000 cases and 250 deaths in total.
Thousands of shops have now also reopened in Austria, with everything from garden centres to DIY stores seeing cautious customers again. In an open letter sent on the eve of Easter, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he wanted to “come out of this crisis as quickly as possible and fight for every job in Austria.”
Meanwhile in Denmark, schools and daycare centres are set to reopen tomorrow (Wednesday), with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen cautiously warning that the country can’t reopen too quickly.
As of this morning, Denmark has had 6,513 total cases and 285 deaths, with Austria tallying 14,102 cases and 384 deaths.
Neighbouring Norway has also indicated that it might follow suit soon enough.
The rest of the continent, however, is bent on extending its measures, with experts warning that a “deadly second wave” could very well hit any country that resumes life too quickly.
On the complete other end of the spectrum, French President Emanuel Macron has warned that the EU’s external borders may remain closed until September, with strict lockdowns in both France and the UK now expected to last for at least another month.
“Were we prepared for this crisis? Obviously, not enough,” Macron told the nation in a televised address last night, re-extending France’s lockdown and saying he intends on gradually opening up the economy and schools again from 11th May.
At the end of last week, WHO head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the “welcome slowing” of COVID-19 in some of European’s worst hit countries… but quickly followed it up with a serious warning.
“Lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence,” Dr Tedros said.
Meanwhile, in a European Commission document that is set to be presented tomorrow, the Commission has warned against “the negative effects and political friction for all member states” which can occur as a result of “a lack of coordination in lifting restrictive measures”.
In what is hopefully not a sign of things to come, Japan’s Hokkaido actually just reintroduced some of the restrictions it had lifted last month as cases began to resurge.
There has now been over 1,970,000 reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and nearly 124,000 people have died. Leading the pack of infected countries by a terrifying margin is the United States of America, with nearly 600,000 total cases.