By Stefan Bos
Some European nations were waking up Monday to more freedoms as lockdowns were slowly eased. Across most of France, people could walk outside for the first time in weeks without filling in a permit.
Spaniards outside of Madrid and Barcelona could meet in bars and restaurants with outside spaces.
And in Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who survived a severe bout of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, unveiled a cautious easing of lockdown conditions in England to begin this week. “We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance, those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work,” he said.
“And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing. Capacity will, therefore, be limited,” Johnson stressed. “So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home. And to ensure you are safe at work, we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure,” he said.
“And when you do go to work, if possible, do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But just as with workplaces, public transport operators will also be following COVID-secure standards,” the prime minister added.
He encouraged people to start exercising again more freely outdoors, beginning Wednesday. And the prime minister had some good news for school children and shops. “In step two – at the earliest by June 1 – after half term – we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops. And to get primary pupils back into schools. In stages, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6,” Johnson said.
“Our ambition is that secondary pupils facing exams next year will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays. And we will shortly be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools and shops and on transport,” the prime minister explained.
But he warned anyone coming to Britain by air would be forced to quarantine, and there will be hefty fines for those violating the rules.
However, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson had raised more questions than he had answered. And leaders of the other three constituent nations Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland already said they were sticking with the existing “stay-at-home” message.
But the easing of lockdown measures was welcomed by the business group as Britain’s economy – the world’s fifth-largest – has suffered under the pandemic and related restrictions.
It comes, however, while elsewhere in Europe, infections are rising in Germany, just days after the country eased its lockdown restrictions.
In Hungary, authorities say the aim is to resume to everyday life gradually, but full restrictions still apply in the most heavily infected
areas including in Budapest, the capital.
The lockdowns have impacted commemorations across Europe of the 75th anniversary since victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Even in Russia, a traditional military parade was canceled this weekend because of the coronavirus outbreak.
But in neighboring Belarus thousands attending a massive parade, despite concerns it could lead tho more infections.