Germany and Spain have begun easing their coronavirus lockdowns – as leaders of both countries cautioned there will be no quick return to normal.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the lockdown will be eased step by step in a ‘gradual, safe and coordinated’ way, with each move analysed carefully to see its impact on infections.
Meanwhile Chancellor Angela Merkel warned ‘we can’t return to life like it was before coronavirus’ and said some states had already gone too far in relaxing measures.
She spoke after state governors began rapidly issuing special exemptions for non-essential businesses to reopen, including large furniture stores in the most-populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia.
Both leaders stressed that they will not hesitate to reintroduce lockdowns if infections begin spiking again.
‘We are in for the long haul. We must not lose energy before we reach the end,’ Merkel said, adding: ‘It would be a terrible shame if our hope punishes us.’
Germany and Spain have both begun easing lockdown measures, though leaders Angela Merkel (left) and Pedro Sanchez both urged caution
Some schools have reopened in Germany this week along with non-essential businesses, though Merkel warned some were going too far and too fast
People head back to Schoneberg city park in Berlin while observing social distancing as Germany slowly eases lockdown measures
As well as reopening non-essential businesses, Germany also began reopening schools this week – with additional social distancing measures.
Meanwhile Spain has allowed construction and manufacturing workers to return to their jobs, and said that from this Sunday children will be allowed out of the house for walks.
Is Germany leaving lockdown too fast?
Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned some German states are being too hasty to exit lockdown, and could cause a new spike in virus cases.
It comes after the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania reopened zoos and fitness studios.
Brandenburg, which neighbours Berlin, has permitted gatherings of 20 people.
Rhineland-Palatinate also allowed the reopening of shopping malls, zoos, and some party gatherings.
Because of the country’s decentralised political system, states have been largely to themselves how to ease lockdown measures – with guidance from central government.
Some states – such as Saxony and Bavaria – have made it compulsory to wear facemasks in public as people return to the streets.
But others have argued the coverings are unnecessary and there is no evidence they prevent the spread of the disease.
They had previously not been allowed out of the house for any reason.
Mr Sanchez said other measures will start being eased from May 10, as parliament voted to extend the current lockdown until at least May 9.
He has not made it clear which measures will be the first to go, or how long the process might take.
Spain reported 4,635 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, a slight increase on the 4,211 reported Wednesday but still far below the peak of 9,222 on March 31.
That brings the country’s total number of cases from 208,389 to 213,024.
Another 440 people also died of the infection, bringing the total from 4,211 to 4,635. The figure is in line with the daily totals from the last four days.
In Germany, 215 deaths were announced – bringing the total from 4,879 to 5,094.
New infections also rose by 2,352, taking the total infected from 145,964 to 148,046.
Germany’s daily infection total has remained largely flat this week, while the number of deaths has continued to fluctuate.
Speaking to parliament on Thursday morning, Mrs Merkel cautioned ‘we’re still walking on thin ice, one could also say the thinnest ice’.
‘We’re not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning. We will be living with this virus for a long time.’
A construction worker at a Volkswagen plant in Zwickau, eastern Germany, gets back to work building electric cars after the plant reopened on Thursday
Germany announced 2,352 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total from 145,964 to 148,046. Despite peaks and troughs, German cases have been generally in decline for weeks
The country also announced another 215 deaths, bringing the total from 4,879 to 5,094. Deaths in Germany have also been fluctuating, but have generally been in decline
Traffic returns to the German autobahn in Gelsenkirchen, on the outskirts of Essen, as the country begins easing lockdown measures
Mrs Merkel told parliament that in her time as chancellor the decision to ‘restrict personal freedoms’ in the fight against the virus was one of hardest she has made.
She also urged people to proceed carefully now as steps were being taken to reduce restrictions so as not to give up hard-won gains.
‘Let us not squander what we have achieved and risk a setback.’
Meanwhile in Spain, Mr Sanchez spoke to ministers ahead of a vote on extending the lockdown – saying it was the first time he was making the request ‘with cautious optimism.’
Mr. Sanchez praised citizens for their exemplary discipline to contain the spread of the virus and said the number of recoveries was another reason for hope.
The Prime Minister said it was now possible to design the next scenario, that of de-escalation, but the gravity of the situation required caution and to act gradually.
Before lifting the general confinement, it was necessary to ensure compliance with the criteria set by the World Health Organisation and experts: stop transmission; detect each infection through tests; control the most vulnerable places; avoid imported infections; prevent cases in the workplace and educational centres and to offer people full information on the rules of hygiene and social distance.
He said that over the next few weeks, with the horizon of the next phase in the fight against the pandemic in the second half of May, the rules and limitations will be adjusted to the circumstances, always with the premise of protecting citizens and the health system.
Spain announced 440 new deaths from coronavirus on Thursday, bringing its total from 4,211 to 4,635. Deaths have now been in general decline since the start of the month
Spain also announced 4,635 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total from 208,389 to 213,024. New cases have also been in general decline since the start of April
Spain has allowed construction and manufacturing workers to go back to work, and said children will be allowed out of the house from Sunday (pictured, a family in Madrid)
‘The de-escalation will be slow and gradual precisely because it must be safe,’ he said in the lower house.
After each advance in the liberation of spaces of mobility and social activity-, its effects will have to be verified: if the virus remains controlled, a new step will be considered; if not, restrictions will be reinstated.
The Prime Minister highlighted two new features of the Royal Decree extending the State of Emergency.
The first is that related to the relief of the confinement of boys and girls from April 26, the start date of the new extension.
After the deliberations of the health and childhood authorities, Sánchez explained, minors may take controlled walks.
The new rule will allow brief walks for those under 14 years old, who can run, jump and exercise within a kilometre of home.
An adult must accompany them, with a maximum of three children, and a distance space will be respected
Secondly, the Royal Decree enables the Minister of Health to modify, expand or restrict the measures, places, establishments and commercial, cultural and recreational activities allowed, which Mr. Sánchez has defined as an ‘essential legal tool’ to advance in the different stages towards the ‘new normal’.
The head of the Executive said ‘we are in the right direction’ to undertake the transition process.
A couple in Grenada, Spain, hang out a banner marking 40 days of the lockdown as politicians consider easing measures after cases and deaths began falling
A street cleaner in Malaga disinfects the road as the country prepares to ease lockdown measures, allowing people to leave their homes