The coronavirus pandemic brought life as we know it to a standstill. Travel was stopped, borders closed and lockdown measures were implemented across the globe. Now, five months on since the first case was reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, countries who have a handle on the spread are beginning to ease their COVID-19 restrictions.
For the sake of recovering the global economy – which is heading towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression – governments around the world must now strategise how they will, in the words of Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, “co-exist with the virus”. Which essentially means finding a way to resume business as usual with as minimal harm to public health as possible.
After a devastating two months Italy has finally begun to end it’s seven-week lockdown. As of 4 May, the country started allowing bars and restaurants to operate takeaway; allowing some manufacturing businesses to begin operating again; and giving residents more freedom to visit parks and travel within their local area. There is hope that from 1 June, restaurants will be able to resume regular service (maintaining social distancing) and facilities like museums, libraries, salons and gyms will be reopened. In the meantime, residents must still carry a document citing the reason for venturing away from their home, face masks are mandatory on public transport and schools will remain closed until September.
After weeks of seeing the rates of infections and deaths decline, Spain lifted their 48-day lockdown on the second day of May. For the first time since 14 March, small businesses were allowed to open their doors and residents were allowed to leave their homes for exercise, which was previously deemed non-essential. However, businesses must abide by the policy of one customer per employee and appointments must be made in advance.
Starting 4 May, Germany permitted small businesses and shops to reopen however bars and restaurants remain shut and schools are expected to open gradually throughout the term with senior students the first to return. Gatherings are still limited to two people and residents are encouraged to wear masks in public. Stadiums and concert halls will remain shut until 31 August.
France has had some of the strictest lockdown rules across Europe which are set to ease from 11 May. Shops will be allowed to open as will some primary schools operating at a ten per cent capacity. Residents will still be required to work from home if possible however movement outside will be allowed within a 60-mile radius. President Emmanuel Macron suggested that people modify their travel arrangements over the summer as it’s looking like only domestic travel will be permitted.
Austria was one of the first countries in Europe to loosen its lockdown measures after the number of daily cases began to decline. All shops were permitted to reopen as of 2 May, with restaurants set to be reopened later in the month, along with hotels and swimming pools. Gatherings of more than five people remain banned and schools are still closed.
Greece authorities are now allowing residents to leave their homes without a written excuse and are gradually permitting businesses to reopen. Strict hygiene and social distancing measures are still in place. Senior students can start returning to school from next week followed by juniors later in the month.
Croatia is implementing a three-step process to ease lockdown rules, starting with the opening of shops and suburban transport lines on 27 April. The next step (4 May) was to open remaining businesses including beauticians and salons with limitations, followed by allowing gatherings of up to 10 people and the reopening of primary schools from 11 May.
On 4 May, the return of non-essential treatment in hospitals we allowed as were the reopening of textile and sewing shops to provide face masks. Other shops will be permitted to open from 11 May, with schools to reopen in the following week however with a capped number of students.
Universities have been reopened and restrictions on non-essential travel relaxed. Meeting in groups smaller than ten is allowed however masks are mandatory in public.
Portugal plans to reconsider easing restrictions every 15 days. So far, the country has begun reopening medical and dental clinics, hair salons and small shops. Larger shops will be able to open from 18 May, including museums and restaurants (with limited capacity). From June, shopping centres, preschools, cinemas and places of worship will hopefully be able to open again.
Denmark has reopened schools for children in certain year groups to reduce the number of students learning from home. Restaurants and cafes are allowed to serve takeaway and gatherings of under 10 people have been permitted.
Russia, on the other hand, is in no position to ease lockdowns just yet as the country’s latest number of new cases was nearly double the new cases reported last week. Residents are only allowed to go out to buy food or medicines, walk their pets, or take out the rubbish. A digital permit is needed to go anywhere else.
Similar to Russia, the situation in the UK is rather dire after overtaking Italy with the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is looking at ways to adapt lockdown rules without lifting them.
Canada has begun gradually reopening businesses while keeping with social distancing measures and using increased protective equipment. Rules vary within each province however schools are expected to stay closed until next month.
The United States of America have recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, with the latest tally of cases over one million and the death toll over 70,000. Despite these figures, President Donald Trump is looking into ways to ease coronavirus restrictions and quickly relax social distancing measures. However, final decisions will be made by state governors.
Rather than easing restrictions, regions in Brazil are finally tightening them after being one of the few countries not to go into official lockdown. President Jair Bolsonaro previously downplayed the virus, comparing it to “a little cold”, but governments in Brazil’s 27 states and districts have made their own minds up. Sao Luis became Brazil’s first major city to mandate a complete lockdown on Tuesday after COVID-19 cases climb and medical resources dwindle. Meanwhile, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are extending social distancing measures.
Mexico’s lockdown has been extended until 30 May with schools and non-essential businesses still closed. However, unlike other Latin American countries, there is no curfew for residents.
States across Australia are gradually starting to ease restrictions with some allowing gatherings of up to 10 people. In some states, people are also allowed to engage in outdoor recreation activities so long as it’s within their local area. Victoria and New South Wales – the most populous states – are still maintaining strict social and business restrictions.
New Zealand’s strict lockdown measures have seen a significant decrease in the number of reported cases since mid-March. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is beginning to look at ways to reopen the economy without undoing their good work.
Uganda’s lockdown measures were one of the strictest in Africa. However on Tuesday president Yoweri Museveni, declared COVID-19 as “tamed”. “It is high time we … start slowly and carefully to open up, but without undoing our achievements,” he said during a televised address.
Nigeria relaxed lockdowns in its capital, Abuja, and its biggest city, Lagos, with markets, stores, malls and construction companies opening.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that residents can now leave their homes and venture where they please. Prior to this, they could only travel within a 100-meter radius from their front door. People are now allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to 20 and weddings are permitted with up to 50 guests. The Prime Minister hopes to end lockdown restrictions altogether by 14 June.
Shops and parks have reopened however the ban of schools, universities, cultural and religious events has been extended. President Hassan Rouhani has spoken of the idea to divide the country into regions based on the number of cases and monitor each region’s restrictions accordingly.
India has allowed several small shops to reopen this month with limits on staff and capacity to ensure social distancing measures are still in place. Local transportation and activities like weddings will resume in areas with few or no known infections.
Singapore – which has one of the highest coronavirus case numbers in Southeast Asia – began easing restrictions from 5 May in hopes to reopen the economy by June. Schools will begin to welcome back students gradually from 19 May and workplaces will do the same with staff.
Malaysia’s coronavirus restrictions were extended for the third time to the new date of 12 May. However, under a new regulation called the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), shopping malls were allowed to reopen (with limitations) as were some businesses depending on which state they were in. Large gatherings and interstate travel remain banned.
Vietnam ended most of its coronavirus restrictions last Wednesday (29 April) except for some parts of Hanoi. Students have begun returning to their classrooms but face masks are mandatory.
Restaurants, beauty salons, parks, markets, nurseries and open-air sports venues, such as tennis and golf courses, are all beginning to reopen as Thailand starts to end its lockdown.
From 8 May, the government will be allowing gatherings of up to eight people, and allow for gyms, movie cinemas and places of public entertainment to reopen. Bathhouses, karaoke bars and clubs will stay closed and schools are expected to resume later in the month.
After signs that the spread of the coronavirus is slowing, South Korea announced that school students can return to the classroom within the next week, starting with high school. It will also begin to ease the ban on gatherings if the country can continue to follow social distancing and disinfection guidelines.
Unlike compulsory lockdowns, social distancing in Japan is voluntary. Only some businesses, like gyms, have been asked to close whereas restaurants have remained open. Yet, with the spread of COVID-19 not decreasing as fast as desired, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has extended the country’s national state of emergency until 31 May.
China has been easing lockdown restrictions since early April and slowly but surely things have begun returning to normal. This month, authorities permitted domestic travel and according to the Telegraph UK, more than 50 million domestic trips were made in just two days.