Europe is starting to reopen across the continent as countries started to ease lockdown restrictions as infection and death rates start to slow.
People are now allowed into the Acropolis in Athens, shops in Italy, markets and museums in Belgium, garden centres in Ireland and beer gardens in Bavaria.
Even in countries with the harshest shutdowns – such as those in Italy and Spain – have loosened significantly.
Many nations are now preparing to open their borders next month, trying to sketch out the parameters for a highly unusual summer tourist season.
Germany’s foreign minister, who discussed the options with colleagues from 10 largely southern European countries, cautioned that this year’s holidays will be like no other.
‘Even if a summer vacation will be possible elsewhere in Europe, which I hope, one has to say that this vacation this year won’t be like the ones we know from the past,’ said foreign minister Heiko Maas. ‘The pandemic is still there and we must at least have safety precautions for the worst case that the figures get worse again.’
Greece reopened the Acropolis in Athens and other ancient sites, along with high schools, shopping centres and mainland travel. Tourists were local, for the country still has a 14-day quarantine for arrivals, and travel to the Greek islands remains broadly restricted.
Authorities are keen to reopen the vital tourism sector, following a warning by the EU Commission that Greece is likely to suffer the worst recession in the 27-nation European Union this year.
In Belgium, more students returned to school, hairdressers began clipping locks again and museums and zoos opened their doors, all with strict reservation systems to avoid overcrowding. Hoping to make the most of the sunny weather, open-air markets started selling their plentiful spring fruits and vegetables.
Some stores reopened in Ireland but health minister Simon Harris said he is still nervous because the virus has not gone away.
If Ireland can get the next three weeks right ‘we as a country will find a way to live safely alongside the virus’, Harris told RTE radio.
Churches in Italy and at the Vatican resumed public masses. Guards in hazmat suits took the temperatures of the faithful entering St Peter’s Basilica, where Pope Francis celebrated an early morning mass in a side chapel to commemorate the centenary of the birth of St John Paul II.
The number of deaths across Europe is estimated to be around 160,000.
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