Lockdowns are slowly being eased across some parts of Europe.
Millions of people across Europe are set to embrace a relaxation of stay-at-home rules on Monday, as countries around the world plot their way tentatively through the coronavirus crisis.
In France, from Monday members of the public were able to walk outside without filling in a permit for the first time in nearly eight weeks, teachers will start to return to primary schools, and some shops – including hair salons – will reopen. Bars, restaurants, theatres and cinemas will, however, remain closed.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised for being divisive, confusing and vague as he explained his blueprint for a gradual easing of the lockdown in England.
Almost seven weeks after a nationwide stay-at-home order was put in place in Britain, nearly 32,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker – the worst toll in Europe and second only to the United States.
Johnson, who himself spent a week in hospital with Covid-19, said on Sunday the measures had come “at a colossal cost to our way of life” but added it would be “madness” to squander the progress by moving too soon.
Johnson said schools in England and some shops might be able to open next month, and the government was “actively encouraging” people to return to work if they cannot do so from home.
In Europe, some officials have been emboldened by declining death rates: France’s toll of 70 on Sunday was its lowest since early April, and Spain’s daily fatalities have dropped below 200.
Spain’s health ministry reported 123 coronavirus deaths on Monday, the country’s lowest level in seven weeks and down from a peak of 950 in early April, Reuters reports.
The overall death toll from the epidemic rose to 26,744 on Monday from 26,621 on the previous day. The number of confirmed cases rose to 227,436 from 224,390 on Sunday.
It came as about half of Spain’s 47 million people progressed to the so-called Phase 1 of a four-step plan to relax one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns after the government decided that the regions in which they live met the necessary criteria.
In regions that qualify, including most of Andalusia - Spain’s most populous - as well as the Canary and Balearic Islands, bars, restaurants, shops, museums, gyms and hotels were allowed to open, most at reduced capacity.
But Madrid, Barcelona and other cities including Valencia, Malaga and Granada will remain in Phase 0.
Church services resumed with limited capacity and chairs, rather than pews, were spaced out inside for worshippers to keep 2m apart.
Under the lockdown relaxation, up to 10 people can gather together and people are allowed to move freely around their province.
Fears grow in Germany of second wave of coronavirus infections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the latest gradual reopening of large shops, schools, nurseries, and even restaurants and bars – seemingly bowing to a growing impatience with lockdown restrictions that was manifesting itself in political pressure from the leaders of the 16 federal states, the mass tabloid Bild, and growing conspiracy theory-driven protests across major cities.