Germany and Spain have started to ease their coronavirus lockdown measures, with France expected to follow suit in the coming weeks. But the leaders have warned they will not be returning to normal any time soon, in fear of a second wave of the virus.
Spain, which has recorded the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the world – and the third largest death toll, is aiming to ease its lockdown in the second half of May.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced the shift in policy earlier this week, where he said the measures will be eased slowly and gradually, with each move analysed carefully to see its impact on infections.
But he warned restrictions could return if cases begin to rise again.
The country has already allowed construction and manufacturing workers to return to their jobs, and said that from this Sunday children under 14 will be allowed out of the house for walks.
Initially, it was announced that children would only be allowed to accompany parents to buy food or medicine.
But the public protested such a move, prompting the Government to rescind the restrictions.
Germany has also started to ease its lockdown measures, with schools due to reopen from May 4.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned some states had gone too far in relaxing lockdown measures.
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She said the coronavirus pandemic is “still at the beginning” and warned the country remained “on the thinnest ice” despite its early achievements in responding to the pandemic.
Germany has the fifth highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, but has managed to keep its death toll down to just over 5,000 – far lower than other countries.
The countries low death toll is credited to its early and extensive testing strategy.
But Ms Merkel has hit out at some of Germany’s 16 states for moving too fast in easing the lockdown measures.
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She told the German parliament: “Let us not squander what we have achieved and risk a setback.”
Earlier this week several governors began issuing special exemptions for non-essential businesses to reopen, including large furniture stores in the most-populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia.
Schools are due to reopen early next month, with officials meeting again on April 30 to review how to proceed after that.
Some experts have warned easing lockdown restrictions too early could trigger a second wave of the virus in May and June.
Christian Drosten, the director of the Institute for Virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital, said the country risked “gambling away” its early advantage.
Leaders in both Germany and Spain have stressed they will not hesitate to reintroduce lockdowns if infections begin spiking again.
French President Emmanuel Macron will unveil a detailed lockdown exit plan next week.
Pupils will return to classrooms from May 11, and the finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said he hoped retailers other than restaurants, bars and cafes could reopen from the same date.
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