Europe readies to relax lockdown measures, Asia prepares for second wave

After close to a month of restrictions and lockdown, governments of several European countries one after another announced plans to start easing restrictions and gradually return to normal life. At the same time a second wave of infections started hitting countries in Asia, which in turn imposed new restrictions and lockdown measures.

On Monday Austria was the first European country to draft plans to ease coronavirus restrictions, with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz describing it as a “resurrection.” "We reacted faster and more restrictively than in other countries, but this now also gives us the possibility to come out of this crisis more quickly,” he said at a news conference.

The plan to go out of the crisis starts with reopening non-essential shops of 400 square metres or less immediately after Easter, and will continue on 1 May will opening of all stores, shopping mall and hairdressers, but only if positive developments continue. The number of customers allowed inside, however, would be limited and citizens would be required to wear masks in public and maintain social distancing. The restaurants and hotels will be kept closed until at least mid-May, and public events won’t be held until June at the earliest.

Denmark will start returning to normality by reopening daycares and schools up to fifth grade on 15 April. The action will allow parents to return to work, PM Mette Frederiksen told reporters. "This will probably be a bit like walking the tightrope. If we stand still along the way we could fall and if we go too fast it can go wrong. Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time,” she pointed out. But restrictions for gatherings of more than 10 people would remain until at least 10 May, while larger gatherings would be banned until August.

Norway will start lifting restrictions “little by little,” beginning with opening kindergartens on 20 April, the government said on Tuesday. Students in the first four years of school would return to class on 27 April and higher grades sometime “before summer.” “It has now been 26 days since we changed the way we live our lives,” PM Erna Solberg told reporters. “We can see that anti-infection measures are working.” The government will still require citizens to work from home, and will maintain bans on sports and festivals until at least 15 June. Foreigners remain banned from entering the country.

The Czech Republic will reopen some stores and ease restrictions on individual outdoor sports activities like running and cycling as of Thursday, bit large event will remain banned. “We are clearly saying now that we are able to relatively well manage the pandemic, it is not the pandemic managing us,” Health Minister Adam Vojtech said adding that the country would follow a “smart quarantine” that will require stores to allow a limited number of customers inside, disinfect surfaces and monitor the health of their staff.

Germany has also outlined plans to return to normal daily life, but without pointing out any details. According to Chancellor Angela Merkel, discussing specific dates would be so far irresponsible.

At the same time several countries in Asia have imposed new measures to face a second wave of the virus after infections appeared to have levelled off. On Wednesday South Korea announced it will shut down more than 400 bars, night clubs and discos in Seoul and will tighten border controls to prevent sick people from bringing the infection into the country. Confronted with doubling the number of imported coronavirus cases, Hong Kong extended restrictions on foreigners entering the city indefinitely. And Japan declared a month-long state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures and asked all residents to self-isolate following a surge of infections.

And while the coronavirus lockdown in Wuhan expired on Wednesday, another Chinese city was put under quarantine. Suifenhe, a city bordering Russia, ordered its residents to stay inside and only go outside for necessities once every three days. The restrictive measures were imposed after provincial health officials reported 25 new coronavirus cases there Tuesday, spurred by people entering China through a border checkpoint.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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