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Europe prepares to ease lockdown measures

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Via Financial Times

The French and Spanish governments will on Tuesday outline detailed plans to ease their lockdowns, as more European countries seek to map out an exit route from their economically damaging measures to contain the virus. 

Leaders across the region are grappling with how to balance reopening the economy with keeping the coronavirus epidemic under control. Germany, which has had more success in containing the outbreak than some of its neighbours, began reopening shops last week, and plans to reopen schools early next month. 

On Sunday, French prime minister Edouard Philippe confirmed that he would present the “national deconfinment strategy” on Tuesday, with a focus on six themes: “health (including masks, testing and isolation), school, work, shops, transport and gatherings.”

France is now in its sixth week of lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 22,600 people in France. This month, however, the number of people in hospital and intensive care have both fallen steadily. The country is due to gradually reopen from May 11, with no decision taken on bars and restaurants until the end of that month.

The plan for the country, said Mr Philippe on Twitter, will be put to parliament for a vote, before being presented to local politicians and other “social partners”, such as unions.

On Saturday, the government’s council of scientific advisers warned against too quickly relaxing the lockdown measures as it “could result in a rapid increase in the number of cases” and “serious cases in hospital and intensive care”.

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The council has advised that people keep working from home as much as possible and — despite the government indicating that it intends to start reopening schools from May 11 — said it is against any return to schools or crèches before September.

It also “strongly discouraged” international travel in “the months” after the lockdown ends, to avoid the risk of quarantine abroad or as people return to France.

Spain is also planning to relax its six-week-old coronavirus lockdown — one of the toughest in the world — in the coming days by allowing people to walk and exercise outdoors from the start of next month.

In a televised address to the nation on Saturday night, Pedro Sánchez, prime minister, highlighted the country’s falling official daily death toll — which has been below 400 for each of the last two days — and the reduction in the spread of the virus. He added that if the figures continued to improve the government would permit adults to go for walks and exercise outside their homes from May 2.

His administration has already announced that as of Sunday, children under the age of 14 will be able to go for walks of up to 1km from their homes if they are accompanied by an adult.

Mr Sánchez warned, however, that the government planned to phase out the lockdown only slowly throughout the month of May, and possibly June, with regional and sectorial variations.

“We have to be very prudent,” he said, arguing that the period of phasing out the lockdown would be as risky and as dangerous as the initial period of the pandemic and that people would need to retain social distancing. “We will only win this battle definitively when we have a vaccine or a treatment that can serve as a remedy,” he said. 

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Mr Sánchez is due to outline the government’s full plan to phase out the lockdown on Tuesday. Ahead of his remarks, people in various parts of Spain protested against the government by banging pots and pans in their houses.

In the UK, pressure is growing on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put forward an exit strategy from Britain’s current lockdown as he returns to work two weeks after being released from hospital.

However, Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, said on Sunday that it would be “irresponsible” to discuss ways of easing restrictions. 

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