France and Spain expected to announce easing of lockdowns

  • France and Spain expected to announce easing of lockdowns
    A girl wearing a face mask plays near the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Children in Spain have only just been allowed out. Photograph: Matthias Oesterle/Zuma Wire/REX/Shutterstock France and Spain expected to announce easing of lockdowns
By The Guardian , Reuters, Juan Cruz Clemente
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Moves come despite a rise in the German infection rate following the relaxation of restrictions

France and Spain are expected to announce plans to lift their strict Covid-19 lockdowns, even as official figures in Germany showed the infection rate starting to rise again after restrictions there were eased.

Governments across Europe are wrestling with the conundrum of how best to lift often draconian confinement measures that are exacting a disastrous toll on their economies, while avoiding a dangerous second wave of contagion.

The French prime minister, Edouard Philippe, will address the lower house of parliament at 3pm local time on Tuesday to reveal how the country, which has recorded more than 23,000 deaths from coronavirus, plans to exit its six-week-old lockdown.

Philippe’s announcement will be followed by a debate and a vote, with just 75 of France’s 577 MPs allowed into the Assemblée Nationale in order to respect social distancing. All others will vote by proxy.

The president, Emmanuel Macron, had earlier announced that the lockdown would be lifted from 11 May, but was vague on the details apart from saying pupils would start returning to school from that date and cafes and restaurants would stay shut.

The plan has been agreed with Macron and follows a fortnight of intense discussion between ministers, each of whom was asked to recommend measures for their own area of responsibility, and the government’s specialist scientific committee.

The difficulties of the trade-offs involved in what is promised to be a “progressive and controlled easing of confinement” are already apparent: the scientific council has said it favoured schools reopening only in the autumn, while acknowledging the “political” decision of the government to reopen them earlier.

Philippe is expected to announce when face masks must be worn; who will be tested for the virus; which workers are expected to return to their jobs; what shops will reopen and when; and what arrangements have been made for public transport.

France’s hard-hit restaurants, cafes and bars, however, are unlikely to reopen for several weeks yet and the government is not expected to tell them until the end of May when they can open.

“The virus does not like the French way of life,” Macron told a meeting of industry representatives last week that included several star chefs.

Spain, which has also suffered more than 23,000 coronavirus deaths, was also set to announce its “gradual and asymmetrical” roadmap out of lockdown later on Tuesday, although the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has first to present it to his cabinet and obtain their approval.

Salvador Illa, the health minister, has suggested that the easing of restrictions should be staggered, with different groups of people, such as families with children and the elderly, allowed out at different times of day.

The country’s population of nearly 47 million have spent more than six weeks in strict lockdown, with only adults authorised to leave home to buy food and medicines or walk the dog. In a first cautious step out of confinement on Sunday, children were allowed out for the first time.