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Spain, France to Ease Virus Curbs as Europe Eyes Crisis Exit

This content was published on April 28, 2020 - 09:23

(Bloomberg) -- Spain and France, two of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, are set to spell out plans to ease lockdowns as Europe moves to loosen restrictions despite concerns that such steps could backfire.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez plans to announce loosening measures after Tuesday’s weekly cabinet meeting, and France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will present the government’s blueprint to the National Assembly.

Italy -- the original epicenter of the continent’s outbreak -- will soon permit people to leave their homes for the first time in weeks, joining countries including Germany, Austria and the Netherlands in relaxing restrictions. Switzerland on Monday allowed an array of retailers as well as tattoo studios to open their doors, and the Swiss flocked to gardening stores to catch up on spring planting.

European leaders are eager to restart economies after lockdown measures shuttered factories, halted travel and kept millions of people largely confined to their homes. The fallout is spurring talk of recovery efforts on the scale of the post-World War II reconstruction. But after more than 110,000 deaths on the continent, policy makers are wary of decisions that could see them risking lives for the sake of securing jobs.

The Spanish cabinet is considering a plan to start phasing out the lockdown, after the government eased restrictions for children over the weekend and said that adults will be allowed out to exercise as of May 3. The administration has said that some regions may reopen before others.

In France, all broadcasters are replacing normal programs with special editions to cover Philippe’s much-awaited presentation at 3 p.m. in Paris. The plan for a gradual easing of the current restrictions from May 11 is being adjusted right up to the last minute. It will focus on six areas, including public transportation and schools, according to his office, which has been tight-lipped about the details.

Two months after the country recorded its first case, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is set to tell citizens that the time to start waiving the restriction measures has come. The first phase of easing will start on May 4 with the reopening of shops and hairdressers. Some schools will start operating in mid-May and travel between regions will be permitted on a gradual basis.

Austria, one of the the first European countries to relax containment rules, will lift more restrictions on public life as infection rates remain low, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said.

People will again be free to leave their homes and meet in public whenever they like, rather than having to provide a specific reason for doing so, Anschober told reporters in Vienna. However, Austrians will still have to keep at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) away from each other, wear face masks in stores and on public transport, and gatherings will continue to be limited to no more than 10 people.

The steps come as new cases trended lower. Spain recorded a drop in the number of new infections and deaths, and Germany’s daily increase in cases fell below 1,000 for the first time in more than five weeks. Italy reported 1,739 infections, its lowest daily number in seven weeks.

But it’s not all good news. Germany’s reproduction factor -- a means of gauging how successfully countries have kept the virus in check -- edged up to 1.0 on Monday from 0.9 the previous day, and new cases in France rose on Monday.

“I plead for understanding that now when contagion rates have again increased that we need to proceed very, very cautiously so that we don’t have to take back all the easing steps,” German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said in a TV interview with ARD.

(Updates with Austria’s latest measures, Spain’s virus figures)

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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