Which Countries are Relaxing Their COVID-19 Lockdowns?
Several countries have eased their lockdowns and social restrictions after nearly two-month hiatus aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19. The virus has caused 362,054 recorded deaths globally as of May 29.
Lockdown is a measure that restricts people’s outdoor activities, orders physical distancing and temporarily shuts down numerous business sectors, except for vital industries such as healthcare, media and telecommunication, groceries, finance, information and technology, logistics, and defense.
Also, such a mechanism orders the closure of public places such as schools, entertainment centers, and hotels. Most people work from home. Students and teachers have been studying and teaching from home, too.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that lifting lockdowns too early would pose a risk of creating a new cluster of COVID-19. On May 19, the Geneva-based institution stated the numbers of global cases surpassed 5 million amid the efforts to soften the restrictions.
However, if a country plans to relax its quarantine, it must make sure that COVID-19 infections have been contained and its healthcare service is capable of tracing and detecting new infections.
Here are some of the countries that have reopened their borders and what is happening following the easing of restrictions.
COVID-19 first broke out in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province. Beijing then closed access to and from Wuhan on January 23. Lockdown was carried out strictly. Medical workers in that city visited residents and conducted extensive testings to trace the spread of the virus.
The numbers of COVID-cases in Wuhan started slowing down in February. Meanwhile, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic moved to Europe given that countries such as France, Spain, and Italy recorded the highest numbers of new coronavirus cases at that time.
On April 8, the Chinese government lifted the lockdown in Wuhan. Activities are now back to normal with a strict health protocol. China’s busiest city, Shanghai, also opened its Disneyland theme park for the public.
On May 21, Hubei Province recorded zero cases of COVID-19, for the first time since the pandemic started. However, the health commission in the country stated there were two new cases in Shanghai and Jilin at the end of Friday May 22, as cited in Aljazeera.
Vietnam imposed a lockdown in early April, and the socialist state eased the restrictions on April 24. However, Vietnam responded quickly to the outbreak after it began in Wuhan. Vietnam closed all flights from and to China, shut down schools and public places after the Chinese New Year’s holiday.
Indonesia’s ambassador to Vietnam, Ibnu Hadi, during an exclusive interview with Liputan6, said that Vietnam had anticipated the spread of the virus a week before the holiday by banning mass gatherings.
The government’s centralized responses, consistencies, and people’s compliance are keys to the country’s success story in dealing with the pandemic without any single recorded deaths.
Italy has been one of the countries with the highest COVID-19-related death numbers with 33,142 as of May 29. At the end of March, the country’s mortality rate from COVID-19 stood around 11 percent, among the world’s highest.
On May 3, Italy started gradually relaxing its lockdown measures. Outdoor activities are now permitted with several steps taken to prevent the virus from infecting more people.
On May 24, Italy recorded 50 deaths from COVID-19, the lowest since the outbreak’s earliest period. However, the data did not include that from Italy’s hardest-hit region, Lombardy.
People must wear masks when they are outside and maintain physical distancing. Restaurants are opened only for takeout services. Restaurants, bars, and beauty salons are expected to resume a regular operation starting in June.
Italy will reopen regional borders and open to some European countries on June 3. However, authorities warned that this would take place if the country could control the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths and people comply to physical distancing measures to avoid the second wave.
However, not all regions are now ready for travel. A new research by GIMBE, Italy’s Group for Evidence-based Medicine, revealed that Italy’s northern parts of Liguria, Lombardy, and Piedmont were not ready to lift the travel ban due to the increase in the numbers of new cases.
“Our analysis on the post-reopening period, from May 4, shows that Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont have the highest percentage of positive diagnostic swabs,” the independent scientific foundation’s head, Dr. Nino Cartabellotta, stated in a press release as translated in thelocal.it.
On May 11, Spain loosened the tight restriction measures after imposing a lockdown in March. This step excluded Barcelona, the country’s capital Madrid, and Girona due to the relatively high numbers of COVID-19 cases there.
However, Barcelona and Madrid started relaxing their quarantine measures on May 25. People can meet, but mass gatherings involving more than ten people are banned.
Malls, restaurants, places of worship, small shops can open with a limited capacity. Spain will also open its tourism sector in July.
The lockdown, which was enforced on March 14, triggered a nationwide protest, given its severe impact on the country’s economy. Thousands of Spaniards honked horns of their cars and motorcycle and waved Spanish flags in protest against the handling of the pandemic by the country’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
After the lowest death rates for the past seven days, Health Minister Salvador Illa warned of the second outbreak following the isolation of 270 people in the region of Ceuta and 20 new cases in the Catalan’s Leida from a birthday party, Anadolu reported.
Madrid and Catalonia contribute to the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections. The official data showed that 75 percent of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, May 27 was reported in both regions (174 out of 231),reported in ElPais.
France began loosening its restriction on May 11 after a 55-day quarantine. Markets and small shops can now open with a limited number of people. Outdoor activities are allowed with a series of health protocol’s procedures such as mask-wearing and hand-washing.
Non-essential business sectors are back to regular operation. Cafes and restaurants will open again in areas called a green zone (the areas where the outbreak is not severe), as BBC reported.
The reopening of schools has raised concern over the creation of new COVID-19 clusters. The official data showed there had been 70 new infections linked with schools just a few days after the reopening of educational institutions.
Previously, parents in France raised concern over the plan to reopen schools given that smaller kids want to play together, so it is unlikely to maintain physical distancing.
What About Other Countries?
Despite recording the world’s highest COVID-19 cases with over 1 millions infections and more than 100,000 deaths, US President Donald Trump said he would lift the nationwide lockdown to boost the economic growth.
Trump’s decision sparked controversy. Americans have mixed reactions; some demanding the opening of the economy, while experts and governors’ in some of the US states opposed the president’s plan.
Egypt eased restriction during the fasting month of Ramadhan after closing public places on March 15. Business activities are back to normal with restricted hours.
Scandinavian nations Denmark and Norway gradually lifted restrictions in April. They started opening schools and business, with a strict health protocol.
New Zealand ended its five-week lockdown on April 28. The country succeeded in lowering its alert level from 4 to 3. Cinemas, museums are still closed, but restaurants can open with a limited capacity.
Germany saw the rise in the numbers of new COVID-19 cases just days after it loosened the restrictions. The reproductive rate (R0) rose from 0,65 on May 6 to 1,13 on May 11 as BBC reported, meaning an individual can spread the virus to other person.
Other Countries Planning to Relax Restrictions
Singapore and Malaysia have extended their partial lockdowns until June 1 and June 9, respectively. The former recorded the sharp spike in the numbers of new COVID-19 cases in April due to the crowded dormitories full of migrant workers.
Their partial lockdowns also order the closure of non-essential business and public places and the enforcement of physical distancing.
Indonesia imposed large-scale social restriction (PSBB) in some of the provinces and cities. The country’s capital Jakarta has extended the PSBB until June 4, but it is still unsure whether this will be prolonged or not.