The governments of Norway, Denmark, Austria and the Czech Republic have announced plans to ease restrictions in place to slow the spread of coronavirus despite a second wave of infections hitting several countries in Asia.
The leaders of these four European countries said the pandemic is under control in their respective nations after early action appeared to curb the virus.
Norway will lift restrictions “little by little,” beginning with opening kindergartens on April 20, the government said Tuesday. Students in the first four years of school would return to class a week later on April 27 and higher grades “before summer.”
“It has now been 26 days since we changed the way we live our lives,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told reporters in reference to the lockdown. “We can see that (the government’s) anti-infection measures are working.”
Norway, which has so far recorded 89 deaths and 5,903 confirmed COVID-19 infections, will still require citizens to work from home, and will maintain bans on sports and festivals until at least June 15. Foreigners remain banned from entering the country.
The Nordic country of some 5 million people was one of the first in Europe to enact measures to mitigate the spread of the disease. It has since seen its economy grind to a halt with unemployment rising to 15.4 percent this week, according to Reuters.
Denmark, another of Europe’s first countries to impose a lockdown, gradually will ease back into normal life beginning with reopening daycares and schools in first to fifth grade on April 15.
The action will allow parents to return to work, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told reporters.
"This will probably be a bit like walking the tightrope,” Frederiksen said. “If we stand still along the way we could fall and if we go too fast it can go wrong. Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time.”
Restrictions already in place for gatherings of more than 10 people would remain until at least May 10, while larger gatherings would be banned until August, Reuters reported.
Denmark has reported falling rates of death and infections from the virus, with 218 fatalities out of 5,581 confirmed cases as of Wednesday.
Austria was the first European country to draft plans to ease coronavirus restrictions, with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz describing it on Monday as a “resurrection.”
"We reacted faster and more restrictively than in other countries and could therefore avoid the worst,” Kurz said at a news conference. “But this fast and restrictive reaction now also gives us the possibility to come out of this crisis more quickly.”
Kurz said the gradual plan to reopen non-essential shops of 4,300 square feet or less will begin April 14 following the Easter holiday – but only if positive developments continue. All stores, shopping mall and hairdressers would then open on May 1.
The number of shoppers allowed inside, however, would be limited and citizens would be required to wear masks in public and maintain social distancing, the Vienna Times reported.
The government will keep restaurants and hotels closed until at least mid-May, and public events won’t be held until June at the earliest.
“If we are not successful, then we must pull the emergency brake,” Kurz said.
Austria has so far reported 273 deaths and 12,824 cases.
The Czech Republic plans to reopen some stores and ease restrictions on individual outdoor sports activities like running and cycling on Thursday, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said at a news conference. Large events will remain banned.
“We are clearly saying now that we are able to relatively well manage the pandemic here, it is not the pandemic managing us,” Vojtech said. “We are not facing massive increases in the numbers of patients -- identified or hospitalized.”
Vojtech said the country would follow a “smart quarantine” that will require stores to allow a limited number of customers inside, disinfect surfaces and monitor the health of their staff, daily newspaper Lidovsky reported.
The country has reported 5,033 cases and 91 deaths as of Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Germany this week also outlined a planned return to normal daily life, but Chancellor Angela Merkel said discussing specific dates would be irresponsible on the part of the government.
However, several countries in Asia have imposed new measures to face a second wave of the virus after infections appeared to have leveled off.
South Korea announced Wednesday it will shut down more than 400 hostess bars, night clubs and discos in its capital of Seoul and plans to take steps to tighten its borders to prevent sick people from bringing the infection into the country.
Hong Kong has seen the number of imported cases in the city more than double in the last two weeks. The initial two-week entry restrictions for foreigners was extended indefinitely Monday.
Japan declared a month-long state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures Tuesday and asked all residents to self-isolate following a surge of infections.