German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced plans to slowly ease restrictions on the coronavirus pandemic.
The rules on social distancing will remain in effect until at least May 3, with Merkel also strongly recommending that people wear face masks in public.
But starting next week, some larger stores may open.
And schools will start reopening from May 4, with priority for students taking exams.
Merkel said the country has achieved “fragile intermediate success” through tough measures.
The Chancellor said the country “must stay focused and keep going,” adding that they “don’t have much room for maneuver.”
Large public gatherings, including religious services, will remain prohibited until August 31. The bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and concert halls will all remain closed.
According to the German Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country has 127,584 confirmed cases and has reported 3,254 deaths.
Merkel’s announcement makes Germany the last European country to start relaxing the restrictions:
- Denmark reopened schools and nurseries for children up to 11 years old
- Construction and manufacturing work resumes in Spain
- Thousands of small stores Austria reopened on Tuesday and the country will allow outdoor sports like tennis, golf and athletics from May 1
- Some regions Italy reopened bookstores and children’s clothing stores
France, however, extended its foreclosure measures for an additional four weeks until May 11. Belgium will maintain its restrictions until at least May 3.
And in Russia, groups of veterans have asked President Vladimir Putin to postpone the May 9th 75th anniversary victory parade scheduled for May 9 because of the risk it may pose to participants.
What did Mrs. Merkel say?
After a videoconference with the heads of the 16 German states, Merkel announced the gradual loosening of strict foreclosure measures.
Schools can reopen “gradually and very slowly” after May 4, she said, with new safety measures for breaks and school buses, and priority given to students taking exams.
“It will be a great logistical effort and it requires very careful preparation,” she said.
Stores up to 800 square meters (8,600 square feet) may restart from Monday, provided they have “plans to maintain hygiene,” she said.
Car dealerships, bike shops and bookstores can all reopen, regardless of size. Hairdressers will be allowed to open their doors from May 4, provided they also follow strict hygiene measures.
But the locking is far from over. The Chancellor strongly recommended that people wear protective masks when shopping and on public transport, saying it “will help protect others.”
This makes Germany the last country to publish face mask directives in public – although Merkel has not made it mandatory.
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Europe’s largest economy went into recession in March, said its economy minister, citing “the collapse of global demand, the disruption of supply chains, changes in consumer behavior and the ‘investor uncertainty’.
Last month, the German government adopted a recovery plan worth 750 billion euros (£ 653 billion; $ 816 billion) to help mitigate the effects of the virus.
Economists and governments are increasingly concerned about the impact of the global pandemic. The head of the International Monetary Fund has warned that the world is facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Last week, the EU agreed on a € 500 billion bailout package for member states hard hit by the epidemic.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen presented a roadmap for a gradual lifting of restrictions in the 27-state bloc on Wednesday, but said it was not a signal to act immediately.
She set out the key conditions involving a significant reduction in the spread of Covid-19, the health system, surveillance and monitoring. A donor conference will be held online for governments and organizations to pledge money for a vaccine, said von der Leyen.