Coronavirus: Spain begins to ease lockdown to revive economy

A policeman hands a mask to a commuter at Nuevos Ministerios metro station in Madrid, Spain (13 April 2020)Image copyright

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Police officers are handing out face masks at metro and railway stations in Spain

Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus, is beginning to ease strict lockdown measures that have brought its economy to a standstill.

People in manufacturing, construction and some services will be allowed to return to work, but must stick to strict safety guidelines.

The rest of the population must still remain at home.

More than 16,970 people with Covid-19 have died in Spain, but the rate of new infections has been falling.

Italy – the hardest hit country in Europe, with almost 19,900 deaths – will allow a narrow range of firms to resume operations on Tuesday.

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Spain’s health ministry said on Sunday that the daily number of deaths had risen slightly, with 619 reported in the previous 24 hours, after falling for three consecutive days.

However, the number of new infections was roughly half what it was a week before, with 4,167 confirmed cases bringing the total to 166,019.

“We are still far from victory, from the moment when he will recover normality in our lives,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez warned.

“We are all keen to go back out on the streets… but our desire is even greater to win the war and prevent a relapse,” he added.

On Monday, the government lifted some of the restrictions put in place on 27 March and allowed businesses whose employees cannot work remotely to reopen.

Officials intend to distribute 10 million face masks on public transport.

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Manufacturing and construction workers can return to work, but other people must remain at home

The head of the regional administration in Catalonia, Quim Torra, said he would not comply with any easing of the lockdown for non-essential workers, warning that “the risk of a new outbreak and a second lockdown is enormous”.

Mr Sánchez said the decision was taken after consulting a committee of experts.

He also noted that Spain had not entered the “second phase” of the fight against the coronavirus, when there would be any further loosening of the lockdown. That was at least two weeks away and would “be very gradual”, he added.

Builders can only work in areas away from local residents, so they cannot yet go back to doing home improvements.

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Italy reported 431 new deaths on Sunday – the lowest for more than three weeks. However, the country is almost certain to join the United States on Monday above the threshold of 20,000 deaths.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said last week that the lockdown would continue until 3 May, but that a few types of shops and businesses would be allowed to reopen on Tuesday. They would include bookshops, stationers and shops selling children’s clothes, he said.

Factories will not reopen, although Mr Conte said he would continue to assess the trend of new infections and “act accordingly” if conditions allowed it.

In Germany, where 3,022 people with Covid-19 have died, pressure is also growing from businesses for a plan on how to exit the country’s lockdown. On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss a strategy with regional leaders.