Millions of Europeans emerged from lockdown today with many heading back into work, to school or heading out to enjoy a stroll in the park for the first time in weeks.
Hundreds of thousands of German pupils returned to the classroom, while small businesses such as hairdressers and retail shops in Spain, Portugal and Greece were allowed to re-open today.
Hardest-hit Italy has led the way out of its more than two-month quarantine, with the nation finally allowed to visit relatives. An estimated 4 million returned to work on construction sites and factories, while restaurants that have managed to survive the crisis re-opened for takeaways, but bars and ice cream parlours will remain shut.
Parks and public gardens will re-open today but the use of public transport will be discouraged and everyone will have to wear masks in indoor public spaces. On the eve of Italy’s first steps towards easing restrictions, the country reported its lowest fatality rates, with 174 deaths, since the country was locked down on March 10.
The former epicentre of the outbreak now has an R rate – the number of people that each infected person will spread to on average – below one, which is the threshold most countries are aiming for in a bid to bring the spread of the pandemic under control.
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Romans headed out into the sunshine this morning, with dad-of-three Stefano Milano, 40, describing the joy of being able to see his loved ones again.
Mr Milano said: ‘We are feeling a mix of joy and fear.
‘There will be great happiness in being able to go running again carefree, in my son being allowed to have his little cousin over to blow out his birthday candles, to see our parents.
‘But we are also apprehensive because they are old and my father-in-law has cancer so is high risk’.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a gradual re-opening from today, which differs from region to region.
The Veneto region, which includes Venice, started serving food and drinks at outdoor restaurants and bars last week.
Officials are considering re-opening beaches and allowing small groups to go sailing in the area around Genoa, but neighbouring Emilia-Romagna – one of the worst-hit regions at the peak of infection – will keep beaches closed.
Despite the positive steps, Italy the eurozone’s third largest economy, is expected to shrink more than in any year since the global depression of the 1930s.
Half of the workforce is receiving state funding, after everything but pharmacies and supermarkets were shut by mid-March with some of the harshest restrictions in the world.
Meanwhile in Spain, which has also been heavily hit by the virus, Spaniards enjoyed a weekend of jogging, cycling and walking outside after finally being allowed out of their homes to exercise outdoors.
Spaniards have spent six weeks under one of the world’s toughest lockdowns but today small businesses such as hairdressers, book shops and clothes stores were allowed to re-open to customers with pre-booked appointments.
Restaurants and cafes were also allowed to start selling takeaway food after weeks of home delivery only.
On Sunday Spain recorded the lowest number of fatalities since the beginning of the outbreak, with 164.
On April 28, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez outlined a ‘plan for a transition to normality’ in four phases, each lasting around two weeks, with the country now embarking on phase one.
Four islands, three Canary Islands and the Balearic Island of Formentera, were given a head-start on lifting lockdown measures as they had low rates of the virus.
Hotels on those islands can now re-open, although virtually none have due to a ban on inter-island and inter-provincial travel, which is expected to remain in place until at least June 22.
Some bars on the islands re-opened their terraces to customers for breakfast or a morning coffee, although with 50 per cent capacity and workers wearing face masks.
In other parts of the continent, which are further along the infection curve, governments were starting to get to grips with the new normal.
Most are advocating continued social distancing and wearing masks in public, as well as more testing to try to track infections.
Hundreds of thousands of children are returning to school in Germany with social distancing measures in place.
Denmark and France are opening primary schools first but Germany has said the youngest pupils must remain at home, while older students were given priority ahead of their summer exams.
Germany’s R rate has dropped below one, while confirmed cases and fatalities dropped to some of their lowest since the outbreak began.
Austria is also sending high school students back to the classroom with classes split into two separate groups, who will attend on a rotation of Monday to Wednesday and Thursday to Friday.
Portugal allowed small shops, hair salons and car dealers to resume business from Monday but ordered facemasks to be worn in stores and on public transport.
In Greece, some retail shops, including hair salons and book stores, have re-opened today, while schools will open their doors gradually from next week.
Slovenia, Poland and Hungary also joined Germany in allowing public spaces and businesses to partially re-open.
Additional reporting by Natalia Penza and AP.
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