Hard-hit European countries extend closings but plan to reopen

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Leaders in Europe’s hardest hit countries pledged to keep the lock orders in place, but began to describe their plans to reopen their economies after they had weathered the worst of the coronavirus epidemic.

President Emmanuel Macron announced Monday evening in a televised speech that he would extend France’s national foreclosure until May 11. But he said nurseries and elementary and high schools would reopen gradually after that date and vowed to be able to test everything with symptoms of Covid-19. by then.

Macron’s signal that he was preparing to gradually lift segregation orders next month came the same day that Spain became the first of the hardest hit European countries to relax its regulations, allowing workers “nonessential” sectors such as construction to return to their jobs after a two-week ban.

But Madrid warned that it could tighten the month’s lock in Spain if infections and deaths rose again. Although 17,489 people died in Spain, the 517 deaths in the past 24 hours were far from last week’s highs of more than 900 a day.

However, there were mixed signals about the effectiveness with which the epidemic had been contained on the continent. Italy last week extended its strict social distancing measures until May 3 and announced Monday that its death toll has increased by 566 in the past 24 hours – a bewildering increase from the 432 deaths reported on Sunday .

Despite the Monday increase in deaths in Italy – which brought its number to 20,465, second behind the United States in terms of deaths reported by coronaviruses – Italy, Spain and France have all shown in recent days stabilization or decline in death rates, which leaves some hope could gradually reopen their savings in the coming weeks.

Brussels is expected to present an EU-wide plan to lift restrictions next week calling on national capitals to coordinate their exit, according to a draft plan seen by the Financial Times.

“At a minimum, Member States should inform each other and [European] The Commission in due time before lifting the measures and taking into account their opinion, “the document said. “It is essential that there is a common approach and operating framework.”

The daily death rate in the UK also dropped on Monday to 717, the highest from last week, but Dominic Raab, the British foreign minister responsible for daily decisions while Prime Minister Boris Johnson recovers from Covid- 19, said that national restrictions remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“We do a lot of work in government to be guided by the science and medical advice you get and I think, until you have that evidence, we will get ahead of ourselves” said Mr. Raab.

The four hard-hit European countries have had to cope with the political fallout from the still high death rates. In his half-hour speech from the Elysee Palace in Paris, Macron struck a contrite note, admitting that the government was ill-prepared for the epidemic.

“Were we prepared for this crisis? According to the evidence, not enough, even though we have faced it, “he said in his fourth speech since the crisis began.

“The moment has revealed failures and shortcomings,” he added, referring to the lack of masks and other medical equipment – even as he had hoped for a pandemic that had almost overwhelmed hospitals in eastern France and the Paris region were starting to drop out. France has registered 14,967 deaths from Covid-19 since March 1.

A rapid doubling of the number of intensive care beds to 10,000 in France and the displacement of hundreds of seriously ill patients by train and plane from the most disadvantaged regions to hospitals in less affected areas, enabled the country to treat each patient in need of emergency treatment.

Macron said current traffic restrictions – people can only leave their homes to go to work, buy essential supplies, help the vulnerable, seek treatment or exercise nearby for one hour per day. day – would not be softened or hardened but would stay inside. place for an additional month since they had proven themselves.

“Hope is reborn but nothing is guaranteed,” he said. “The epidemic is not yet over. . . the more the rules are followed, the more lives we save. “

Although young children are gradually allowed to return to school after May 11, Macron said universities will remain closed except for distance education, while bars, restaurants and cinemas will remain closed. There would be no major festivals until at least mid-July, he added. Borders with non-European countries will remain closed to visitors until further notice.

Macron, accused in the past by his opponents of being an arrogant “president of the rich”, adopted a determined but humble tone, saying that people should learn the lessons of the crisis. “We have to reinvent ourselves, starting with me. . . Times will improve again and we will live happy days again. “

Additional reporting by Davide Ghiglione in Rome and Daniel Dombey in Madrid

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