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New infections and deaths declined in Germany and Spain as all of Europe watches their efforts to gradually ease the lockdowns that sought to tame the pandemic.
Spain, which lifted a ban on outdoor exerciselast Saturday, recorded the fewest new cases and deaths in five days. It’s now preparing to reopen small shops in much of the country on Monday, three weeks after Germany took a similar step. In Italy, daily fatalities fell to less than 200 for only the third time since mid-March.
Germany is now set to open restaurants, hotels and all shops and restart professional soccer games. In France, looser restrictions on businesses and stores will start coming into effect on Monday, though strict controls will remain on public transport in Paris. In Portugal, which reported only a dozen new deaths, easing begins Monday, with small shops allowed to open.
Not all Spaniards will notice any change as those in major urban centers including Barcelona and Madrid —the epicenter of Spain’s outbreak — won’t see restrictions eased yet.
“This 51% of the Spanish population will get back a greater part of their lives thanks to the territory won back from the virus by all of us,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Saturday.
Despite more than 150,000 deaths in Europe, leaders are feeling the heat to accelerate a return to normality and restart an economy that may be set to contract the most since the Great Depression. While European Union countries are testing the waters on re-kindling social and economic life, borders will remain shut until mid-June, limiting transport and commerce.
Late on Friday, Euro-area finance ministersagreed to allow the region’s bailout fund to extend an estimated $260 billion in credit lines to each of the bloc’s governments on concessionary terms as leaders seek to cushion the economic blow of the pandemic.
Outside the euro region, Russia’s new cases topped 10,000 for a seventh straight day, leapfrogging on Friday the size of the outbreak in France and nearing levels recorded in the U.K., Italy, and Spain, the region’s hardest-hit countries.
The strictness of lockdown measures varies greatly in Eastern Europe. Belarus today ignored the pandemic risk and held a large military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Thousands gathered in the streets of Minsk for the event, with little social distancing. The country’s authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko said that not holding the event would be a “betrayal” of the country’s war dead.
In the U.K., the end of the war was commemorated with a two-minute silence on Friday, but no public gatherings were sanctioned. With more than 31,500 fatalities, the U.K. has suffered the most deaths from the virus in Europe. Another 346 deaths were reported on Saturday, with almost 4,000 new cases of the virus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was at risk of dying from Covid-19 last month, is under pressure to ease the country’s lockdown at a time when the daily death toll has remained near 600. Johnson will lay out a road map out of the lockdown on Sunday, though he isexpected to largely keep restrictions in place until June.
Virus-related restrictions are prompting Britons in crowded cities to look to move to the countryside in record numbers,the Guardian reported. Inverness in the Scottish Highlands saw the biggest year-on-year increase, with home searches up 167%, the paper said.
Johnson’s government has been criticized for being slow to respond to the risks of the virus even after cases began to spread in the U.K. in January. Now, there may be evidence that the virus may have been in Europe much earlier than that.
The outbreak could have started as early as October, according to a joint U.K.-French study cited bythe Telegraph. A French athlete who participated in the World Military Games held in Wuhan, China in October suffered symptoms matching Covid-19, the paper said.
— With assistance by Nikos Chrysoloras, Viktoria Dendrinou, Ian Wishart, Henry Meyer, Manisha Jha, Alex Morales, Robert Hutton, and Joao Lima
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