Outdoor terraces open as lockdown eases in much of Spain

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Tarragona (Spain) (AFP)

Spaniards returned to outdoor terraces at cafes and bars on Monday as around half of the country moved to the next phase of a gradual exit from one of Europe's strictest lockdowns.

"I really missed this, now you value these little pleasures," said Jesus Vazquez, a 51-year-old builder as he enjoyed a breakfast sandwich and beer in the sunshine outside a bar in the Mediterranean city of Tarragona.

The bar located on the city's high street had set out just five outdoor tables placed two metres (six feet) apart, and Vasquez shared a table with three co-workers including his son Alejandro. The four sat on the corners of the table to keep their distance.

Around half of Spain's population of 47 million live in regions where the lockdown restrictions were eased on Monday, with gatherings of up to 10 people allowed as well as travel within the same province.

Small shops, churches and museums are also allowed to open along with outdoor terraces as long as they limit their capacity.

Alejandro said he couldn't wait to get out of work so he could finally meet up with his friends.

"We made plans to meet up after work and eat something. We are keen to meet, it's been two months since we have seen each other," he said.

- Phased transition -

Fearing a resurgence in cases if restrictions imposed in mid-March are lifted too quickly, the authorities decided that neither the capital Madrid nor Barcelona -- the two worst affected regions -- would be included on Monday in this first phase.

A region can progress to the next phase depending on the evolution of the pandemic -- which has claimed nearly 27,000 lives in Spain -- as well as the capacity of its health care system to respond to a fresh wave of infections.

One of the worst-hit countries, Spain plans a phased transition through to end-June to the end of its lockdown measures.

Laia Sabate, 27, used her new-found freedom to meet with two friends to buy birthday treats for another friend.

"We went to a bakery, got some coffees and cakes to go and we brought them to his home before he had to go to work," she said in one of Tarragona's main squares.