Millions of people were allowed to return to work in Italy on Monday because Europe’s longest lockdown began to subside, while countries from Iceland to India took steps to relax the coronavirus restrictions. Businesses, including hairdressers in Greece and restaurants in Lebanon, open their doors under new conditions.
With increasing pressure in many countries for further steps to restart the economy, politicians are also trying to increase funding for VCO-19 vaccine research. There is hope that someone can be available in a few months, but a warning that it can take longer.
Italy, the first European country to be hit by a pandemic and a country with one of the highest death tolls in the world, began to move after the closing two months. In all, 4.4 million Italians can return to work, and restrictions on movement are reduced.
Traffic in downtown Rome was picked up, construction sites and manufacturing operations resumed, the park reopened and florists returned to the Campo dei Fiori market for the first time since March 11.
“This is something that brings happiness and excitement, and people have been missing it lately,” vendor Stefano Fulvi said. He doesn’t expect to break even in the near future, “but you have to take risks at some point.”
But the freedom of newly discovered Europeans was limited because officials feared it would trigger a second wave of infections.
In Italy, mourners can attend the funeral, but services are limited to 15 people and there is still no word on when the Mass will continue. The restaurant scrubbed their floors in preparation for take-out service, but the service sat a few more weeks.
Southern Italy prepares for the return of students and workers trapped in the north who were hit hard when the lockout was put in place. Some regional governors said they would ask anyone who arrived home to be quarantined for two weeks.
“This is a new page that we must write together, with trust and responsibility,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in his message to the Italians.
Belgium allows several companies to open offices for employees, although remote work is still recommended. Like the Italians, Greeks, Spaniards and many others in Europe, Belgians were told to wear masks on public transportation.
The Italians still have to carry a certification that explains why they left. Greece, which began lifting locks seven weeks on Monday, dropped the same conditions for people to send text messages or bring written permission that justifies being outside the room.
Greek hair salons and shops such as those that sell books and sporting goods are reopened, with strict hygiene and measures to keep their distance.
Athena hairdresser Konstantina Harisiadi has installed a plastic glass barrier in the reception and at the manicure station. The new sign, “Silence is security,” is intended to prevent chatter and limit the potential for virus transmission. On the first day of its opening, all of his clients wore masks.
Harisiadi was ordered through the end of the month but, being forced to operate with clients was far less than usual, meeting the needs would be a struggle.
“We will try our best,” he said, adding that he did not want to use any method of firing staff. “As a small family business owner, I will avoid it. And with my colleagues, I will find a solution to be managed.”
But he also regrets the way the atmosphere will change.
“Everything is different. There is no spontaneity – we can’t greet each other, talk, laugh. We are entering a new era, “he said.
People in Spain who were hit hard came out for the first time to cut their hair or take food, but many small shops were still closed because the owner worked to meet strict health and hygiene guidelines. The neighbor of Portugal also reduced his containment measures and allowed small shops to open.
At the western tip of Europe, Iceland is also reopening a hair salon – along with high schools, dentists and other businesses – after the country has plagued the virus outbreak.
In the Middle East, Lebanon allows restaurants to open at 30% capacity during the day starting Monday. But many business owners say they will not reopen because they will lose more money if they operate under such restrictions in a faltering economy. Cafes, clubs and bars have been ordered to remain closed until June.
India allows some economic activity to continue after a five week shutdown, even when the rate of infection rises slightly. The locking has slowed the spread of the virus but has caused great difficulties for the poor people of India.
An estimated 1.5 million South Africans return to work after five weeks in captivity. Certain mining, manufacturing and retail sectors are reopening with up to 30% of their workforce. Private trains, buses and minibus taxis are back operating with lower occupancy rates, and all South Africans must wear masks in public.
Russia reports a steady increase in infections, fueling fears the country’s hospitals will be overwhelmed. Authorities say that wider testing has contributed to the surge. Russia’s economy has been partially closed since the end of March, and lockdowns have been extended until May 11.
Governments around the world have reported 3.5 million infections and more than 247,000 deaths, including more than 67,000 deaths in the United States, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. Deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and severe pressure of the disease on the health care system mean that the true scale of the pandemic is undoubtedly much larger.
Developing a vaccine will be the key to returning to everyday life that is not too restricted. On Monday, an alliance of world leaders held a virtual summit in hopes of raising about 4 billion euros ($ 4.37 billion) for vaccine research, around 2 billion euros for treatment and 1.5 billion euros for testing. Officials say that number is only the beginning.
Leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Norway and top European Union officials said that the money collected would be channeled largely through recognized global health organizations. The EU executive commission hopes that the United States will take part, but it is still unclear what role, if any, Washington might play in the donor conference.
The German Minister of Health said there were “promising” developments but warned that developing vaccines was one of the biggest challenges in medicine.
“I would be happy if we succeeded in a few months, but I think we must remain realistic,” Jens Spahn told ARD television on Sunday. “This can also take years, because of course there will be setbacks – we’ve seen it with other vaccines.”
Moulson reports from Berlin. Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
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