Coronavirus: Germany relaxes shop closures

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image captionCustomers entering an opticians' in Leipzig

Germany has reopened small shops, car dealerships and bicycle stores, in a tentative easing of the coronavirus lockdown imposed nearly a month ago.

The country has flattened the curve of new infections and last week said it had got the spread under control. But social distancing remains in force.

In Saxony it is mandatory for people to wear face masks in public - and that is strongly recommended elsewhere.

The only students back in school are those sitting leaving exams.

Germany's mortality rate from Covid-19 is significantly lower than for many of its European neighbours. Efficient, large-scale testing by diagnostic labs, and tracing of carriers, is seen as a major factor in that.

The country on Monday recorded 1,775 new cases for the past day, while the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 rose by 110 to 4,404, according to official figures.

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image captionCustomers use hand sanitiser in a fabrics store in Ludwigsburg

Spain registered 399 more Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing its total to 20,852.

That is the second-highest in Europe after Italy. In both countries the daily death toll is declining.

More than 200,000 are infected with the virus in Spain, but 80,587 have recovered, according to the latest official figures.

What is happening in Germany?

There are significant regional differences in how Germany's 16 states are implementing the partial relaxation of the lockdown.

For instance, the densely populated state of North Rhine-Westphalia has reopened large shops as well as small. Elsewhere only those with an area of less than 800sq m (8,611sq ft) are allowed to start operating again.

The government imposed the lockdown on 22 March, shutting schools and banning gatherings of more than two people outdoors. Germany's hotels, restaurants and cafes are to remain shut, as are sports and leisure facilities.

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image captionBerlin pupils facing school leaving exams returned to class

For most German businesses, the lockdown will remain in place until at least 3 May, the government says. Other school pupils will also begin to return to classes after that.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged her Christian Democrat (CDU) colleagues to refrain from discussing further relaxation of the lockdown, German media report.

She warned that such talk could undermine social distancing and fuel a new surge of coronavirus cases, harming Germany's so far successful efforts to fight the virus.

No easy way to relax lockdown

The lifting of Europe's lockdown measures is not at all co-ordinated.

EU member states have 27 different healthcare systems, 27 different infection rates and 27 different priorities as regards kickstarting their coronavirus-battered economies.

Measures even differ within countries. The north Italian region of Lombardy resisted reopening small, non-essential shops last week, while neighbouring Veneto welcomed the opportunity.

There are noticeable differences of opinion within governments too.

Governments face a challenging balancing act - juggling economic, social and health risks - until a coronavirus vaccine can be found.

Denmark has reopened primary schools. Spanish children haven't been allowed outside for over five weeks now. Who's right and who's wrong? No-one can be sure until more is known about Covid-19.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a reference point for many in Europe: calm, authoritative and very careful about over-promising. Her chosen way forward is to test widely, then trace and quarantine those who've been in contact with newly infected individuals. The European Commission and Council presidents agree, but they've played a pretty backstage role so far.

EU government leaders jealously guard the right to decide their own national health and border controls, especially in an emergency.

The leaders of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal have all recently warned the future of the EU is now in danger.

What is the situation elsewhere in Europe?

In Austria, garden centres, DIY stores and small shops reopened last week, but with strict rules on social distancing. Customers have to wear masks, as they do in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Denmark reopened kindergartens and primary schools last week. A range of small businesses, including hairdressers and beauty salons, are reopening on Monday.

Meanwhile, despite France's strict curfew, there were brief clashes between angry local residents and police on Sunday night in two suburbs of Paris: Villeneuve-la-Garenne and Aulnay-sous-Bois. Some cars were set ablaze.

The trigger was reportedly a collision involving a police car and a motorcyclist.

In other developments in Europe on Monday:

  • In Portugal, 138 asylum seekers who tested positive for coronavirus are in quarantine, having been moved out of a hostel in Lisbon
  • Coronavirus has spread to a third migrant facility in Greece - a pregnant 28-year-old Somali woman is now in isolation at a hotel in Kranidi housing 470 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The other people staying there are being tested
  • Poland is reopening parks and forests, but it reported 545 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the biggest daily rise to date. Poland's official death toll is 362
  • Norwegian nursery schools are reopening
  • The Czech Republic is allowing open-air markets to trade, but President Milos Zeman said borders should remain closed for the rest of 2020
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