Greece lockdown (Getty)

To Ease Lockdowns Or To Extend Them? A Growing Worry In Europe Takes Over

Months of long-lasting lockdowns have left populations in panic and economies in decline. This has been the situation in Europe over the past two months, but with healthcare systems overwhelmed and doctors pleading locals to stay at home, the threat of the coronavirus remains real. Deaths have crossed the 20,000 mark in Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom, and authorities are now hoping to contain the virus by pushing for stricter measures such as social distancing and urging people to avoid non-essential travel.

The Reality of Lockdowns

The coronavirus lockdowns have brought life to a daily halt. The regular movement of people has been restricted, education has taken a hit across all age groups, stock markets are performing poorly and a general interest in consumerism has fallen low. These lockdowns have brought both good and bad results. The number of cases are gradually decreasing which may come as a positive sign in this fight against the invisible enemy, but at the same time it has brought a halt to all major industries globally which include manufacturing, production and retail businesses. Businesses are turning towards their governments to ask for funding which will help them revive after incurring heavy financial losses. Take airlines for example, many have become bankrupt – their wings chopped off. Sporting events have been suspended, another blow for some of the top professional athletes in the world.

At a time when the pandemic is wreaking havoc across the globe, forcing people out from their jobs and bringing forth a recession, there arises the need to ease these lockdowns and restart daily life. However, this will come at a cost. There still hasn’t been any discovery of a potential vaccine which can eliminate the virus completely and nothing of the sort is expected for at least a year. Governments are now considering easing these lockdowns to make sure problems such as growing inequality between the rich and poor, domestic violence and other mental or physical illnesses do not reach their tipping point. They’re relying on the use of technology, putting restrictions on people of certain ages and limiting the time people can stay outdoors. So how is Europe eventually going to take a break for good from these lockdowns?

Phase Two of Italy’s Response to COVID-19 Starts on May 4

Starting off with Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has announced a few measures which will help the country get back on its feet. ‘Phase Two’ of Italy’s fight against the coronavirus will begin on May 4 when restrictions will be loosened, the construction and manufacturing sectors will reopen and people will be allowed to visit their relatives. However, social distancing will still be strictly practiced and people will have to wear masks. The strict measures that Italy took earlier in its fight have resulted in extremely encouraging statistics which state that 45% of the transmission of the virus was contained due to the lockdown. Cafés and restaurants will be allowed to open from June 1 but schools will remain shut until September. The ban on mass has angered some segments of Italian society but PM Conte says he believes in his advisory board which knows what’s best for the country. Conte’s moves have raised some eyebrows, with opposition coming from the far-right League but his coalition remains solid in the face of criticism. While some factions of the Italian political landscape are against Conte, the majority are in favor of the PM’s actions during COVID-19. This can also be seen by the 66% approval rating that he has gained in under two months.

Spain’s ‘New Summer’

In Spain, a ‘new summer’ is on the horizon. With the highest number of deaths recorded and a lockdown that has been the strictest in the world, Spaniards are also preparing to ease lockdowns and resume normal life. Earlier this week, children were allowed to go outside after 6 weeks. Starting May 4, Spain’s ‘Phase One’ will kick into action where people will be allowed to go outside as long as they maintain distance. People will also be allowed to visit small shops which will open but will use only 30% of their space. People will not be allowed inside. Spain’s strategy to some extent could prove effective, since it’s allowing provinces and not regions to ease lockdowns based on health statistics, cases and the stress on the health system. Similar to Italy, schools will not open until September. The end of June is the target for Spain and it might just be on course to achieve that.

France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands

Schools and businesses will reopen in France starting May 11 but bars and restaurants will have to wait till the end of June. France’s PM says during the easing of the lockdown the country will conduct 700,000 tests on a weekly basis. In Germany, face coverings have been made compulsory in public. However, after easing lockdown restrictions for big manufacturers like Volkswagen and other small shops, the reproduction rate of the virus rose to 1.0. This shows that it might still be too early to ease lockdowns as people will be infected. Germany’s central government has warned businesses to take utmost caution before another set of more relaxed lockdown rules are released on May 6.

Belgium’s return to normalcy will also take place in 3 stages with the first stage starting on May 4. The Netherlands will also start reopening small businesses in May with schools reopening by the end of June. In Norway, primary schools have already opened while the Swiss are out and about as restrictions ease and people are allowed to visit select shops. The use of masks is also compulsory in these countries despite the relaxation of lockdowns. In the Czech Republic, non-essential travel has been given the green signal, universities have opened and gatherings of 10 people are now allowed.

Turkey’s Situation with COVID-19

In Turkey, all educational institutes have been closed till the end of May while flights have also been suspended till the end of the month. President Erdogan has decided to impose weekend lockdowns during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, where citizens aren’t allowed to leave their homes, but will be able to only for essential services. Medical workers and journalists however will be allowed to go outside. Flights have also been shut down till further notice while bars, clubs and other places of entertainment will reopen at the start of June. Turkey’s neighbor Greece which is currently embroiled in the migration crisis has so far recorded a little less than 3,000 cases. It’s also planning to reopen its economy which is heavily dependent on tourism as roughly 1 in 5 people work for the country’s tourism sector.

Lockdowns across the continent have impacted the flow of daily life on a regular basis. At this point, what we need to take into consideration is the well-being of not only ourselves but those around us. Rushing to ease restrictions could potentially bring renewed problems which could be hard to control if strict action isn’t taken. Governments must put the interest and well-being of their citizens first and then take actions which would benefit the society and humanity as a whole while balancing the easing of restrictions with the risks.