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Europe prepares to roll back Covid-19 restrictions

Norway opened up primary schools across the country April 27 as Europe prepared to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Norway opened up primary schools across the country April 27 as Europe prepared to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions. © Pierre-Henry Deshayes, AFP (archives)

The governments of France, Italy and Spain are releasing plans this week for an easing of lockdowns imposed to curtail the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic as other EU nations are monitoring how the continent’s hardest-hit countries handle the lifting of restrictions.

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French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe will present the government's plan to unwind the Covid-19 lockdown to parliament on Tuesday and parliament will then vote on the measures.

Italy, which has recorded the world’s highest official death toll from the disease, is also set to emerge from lockdown, the longest to date, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte promising Italians on Sunday they would soon be allowed to stroll in parks and visit relatives as the country.

The Spanish government has also announced a gradual reopening of economic activity in the coming weeks, with children allowed outdoors for a brief period over the weekend, for the first time in weeks.

Europe's four worst-affected countries all reported marked drops in their daily death tolls, offering hope that the outbreak may have peaked in some places -- at least for now.

But leaders and experts remain divided on how quickly to revive shuttered economies while maintaining a delicate balance between freedom and safety.

Germany's economy minister urged the country's 16 federal states on Monday to go slowly in lifting coronavirus restrictions to avoid the outbreak spreading further and being forced to backtrack later.

Under Germany's decentralised political system, the states have the power to implement and rescind the social distancing measures on which Berlin is relying to slow the virus's spread, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is resisting pressure from some to further ease restrictions.

Johnson, back at work, to detail exit plan 

Meanwhile British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work Monday after recovering from Covid-19.

Johnson had been recuperating at the British prime ministerial retreat, Chequers, outside London since his release from hospital on April 12.

The prime minister's return to work came as pressure intensified on his government on several fronts over its handling of the crisis.

Speaking from outside his Downing Street office Monday, Johnson said his government would outline plans for an easing of the coronavirus lockdown in the coming days, but warned that there would be difficult judgments required.

"We simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made, though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days," said Johnson.

"I want to serve notice now that these decisions will be taken with the maximum possible transparency," he added. "Of course we will be relying as ever on the science to inform us, as we have from the beginning."

France eyes re-opening schools

In France, the death toll from the coronavirus rose by 242 to 22,856, the health ministry said on Sunday, marking a steady fall in the daily death toll that has lasted over two weeks.

The numbers of people leaving intensive care units (ICUs) has also outpaced the numbers of those entering those units.

The lockdown ordered by President Emmanuel Macron to slow the spread of the virus has been in place since March 17 and is due to be lifted on May 11.

While Macron is aiming to re-open schools on May 11, the government has yet to finalise how this might work in practice.

France has also offered retailers some relief by saying it wants them to reopen on May 11, although some curbs could remain in certain areas to delay any new wave of the virus.

School children should wear masks

Prime Minister Philippe wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday that the government plan would centre on six key areas - public health, schools, businesses, public transport and public gatherings.

France's scientific council advising the government on the pandemic wrote over the weekend that school children aged 11-18 should wear masks to help thwart the virus.

Politicians are also debating whether or not to proceed with a software and mobile phone application aimed at being able to trace the coronavirus, with some expressing concerns over the potential for data abuse and privacy violations.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

 

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