Germany and other parts of Europe yesterday took tentative steps to ease lockdown measures, but officials warned that the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic was far from over.
Some shops reopened in Germany and parents dropped their children off at nurseries in Norway as restrictions in place for weeks were lifted in parts of the continent.
After being hit hard by the virus, Europe has seen encouraging signs in recent days, with death rates dropping in Italy, Spain, France and the UK.
The hope is tempered by fears of new waves of infections, warnings that life will not be back to normal for many months and deep concern over the devastating impact the pandemic is having on the global economy.
However, even the smallest return to normality was welcome.
In the German city of Leipzig, fashion store owner Manuela Fischer said she was “incredibly happy” to be welcoming shoppers again.
In Norway, Silje Skifjell dropped off her boys Isaak and Kasper at a nursery in the north of the capital, Oslo.
“He was so excited we had to leave the house early to come here and see the other children,” she said of four-year-old Isaak, her eldest. “I almost cried, he was so happy to see his friends.”
Governments around the world are mulling how and when to ease lockdowns that have kept more than half of humanity confined to their homes.
The virus has so far infected more than 2.3 million people globally and killed about 165,000, with nearly two-thirds of the victims in Europe, according to an Agence France-Presse tally.
Germany, which has been hailed for keeping fatalities low despite a significant number of cases, was allowing smaller shops to reopen in some regions as of yesterday.
Larger shops and those in major German cities are to open later as part of an attempted phased return to a more normal existence that will also see some students go back to school from May 4.
However, officials are keeping a watchful eye, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying yesterday that she is “greatly concerned” that virus-fighting discipline among the German public may ebb.
Spain, where a nationwide lockdown has been extended, also said it would ease some restrictions to allow children time outside.
Yesterday it listed 399 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, its lowest daily count in weeks.
France also said a nationwide lockdown in force for a month was beginning to bear fruit.
In Australia, authorities in Sydney reopened three beaches for walking, running, swimming or surfing, while New Zealand announced that it will ease a nationwide lockdown next week.
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