Scientists and the politicians who loosened restrictions are watching nervously as countries slowly reopen after Covid-19 lockdowns.
PARIS (AP) — Plastic barriers and millions of masks appeared Monday on the streets of Europe’s newly reopened cities, as France and Belgium emerged from lockdowns, the Netherlands sent children back to school and Greece and Spain further eased restrictions.
All faced a delicate balance of trying to restart battered economies without fueling a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Social distancing was the order of the day but just how to do that on public transit and in schools was the big question.
With Monday’s partial reopening, the French did not have to carry forms allowing them to leave their homes, but crowds quickly developed at some metro stations in Paris, one of France’s viral hot spots. A last-minute legal challenge emerged to the government’s practice of confining people to their own regions, further confusing the post-lockdown landscape.
Antoinette van Zalinge, principal of the De Notenkraker elementary school in Amsterdam, wore a wide white skirt and a hula hoop slung from her shoulders and carried a long stick with a hand at one end so she could shake hands with students while still keeping 1½ meters apart.
In Paris, hairdressers practiced their new workflow over the weekend before Monday’s reopening, and planned to charge a “participation fee” for the new disposable protective gear they’ll need for each customer. Walk-in customers will be a thing of the past, said Brigitte L’Hoste, manager of the Hair de Beauté salon, who expects the number of appointments to be cut in half.
“The face of beauty will change, meaning clients won’t come here to relax. Clients will come because they need to,” said Aurelie Bollini, a beautician at the salon. “They will come and aim at getting the maximum done in the shortest time possible.”
Roughly half of Spain’s 47 million people stepped into a softer version of the country’s strict confinement, beginning to socialize, shop in small stores and enjoy outdoor seating in restaurants and bars. However, its biggest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, remained under lockdown.
Fears about new waves of infection have been borne out in Germany, where a new cluster was linked to a slaughterhouse; in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus emerged; and in South Korea, where a single nightclub customer was linked to 85 new infections.
The South Korean government pushed back hard against that wave, halting the school reopenings that had been planned for this week and reimposing restrictions on nightclubs and bars. It is trying to track 5,500 people who had visited a popular Seoul entertainment district by checking credit-card transactions, mobile-phone records and security camera footage.
In Germany, gyms reopened in the most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, but authorities there and in France have said any backsliding in the daily number of infections could lead to new restrictions.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with the virus,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said on BFM television.
The hurdles ahead for tourism and the service industries were clear, even in places where infections are declining. Shanghai Disneyland reopened to visitors but only in limited numbers and demanded that they wear face masks and have their temperatures checked.
“We hope that today’s reopening serves as a beacon of light across the globe, providing hope and inspiration to everyone,” the Shanghai Disney Resort president Joe Schott said.
In the U.K. — which has the second-most coronavirus deaths in the world behind the United States — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country’s lockdown but urged citizens not to surrender the progress made. Some people, however, were confused as the government shifted its slogan from “stay home” slogan to “stay alert” and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stuck with the old slogan.
People in jobs that can’t be done at home “should be actively encouraged to go to work” this week, Johnson said. He also set a goal of June 1 to begin reopening schools and shops if the U.K. can control new infections and the rate that each patient infects others. Johnson is the only world leader to recover from a serious bout of Covid-19.
“We will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be driven by the science, the data, and public health.”
In the United States, Trump administration officials spoke optimistically about a relatively quick rebound from the pandemic — but then had to announce that Vice President Mike Pence was self-isolating after one of his aides tested positive.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted the U.S. economy would rebound in the second half of this year from unemployment rates that rival the Great Depression. Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over seven weeks to 33.5 million unemployed.
The United States has seen 1.3 million infections and more than 80,700 deaths, the most in the world by far, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and more than 284,000 have died, more than 150,000 of them in Europe. The United States has suffered more than twice as many deaths as the second hardest-hit country, the United Kingdom. Health experts believe all those numbers understate the true toll of the pandemic for different reasons.
The director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said moves by states to reopen businesses “will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now.” Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are increasing more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.
India reported its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases Monday as it prepared to resume train service to ease a lockdown that has hit migrant workers especially hard by eliminating the daily wages they use to feed their families. The government reported 4,213 new cases for more than 67,000 total, including 2,206 deaths. Those numbers are believed to be vastly undercounted.
The railway system is India’s lifeline, transporting 23 million people across the subcontinent each day. When service restarts Tuesday, passengers must wear masks and pass health screenings before being allowed to board and the trains will make fewer stops than usual.
While unemployed workers in developed nations are temporarily buoyed by benefits and job-protection schemes, millions elsewhere are facing dire economic prospects.
In a slum on the banks of a sewage-tainted river in Lebanon, Faiqqa Homsi feels that her family being pushed closer and closer to the edge.
A mother of five, she was already struggling, relying on donations to care for a baby daughter with cancer. The coronavirus shutdown cost her husband his meager income driving a school bus and upended her hopes of earning money selling juice.
“It is all closing in our face,” Homsi said.
By LORI HINNANT and NICK PERRY