Virus Easing Allows Germany to Re-Open as Spain Deaths Slow

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The coronavirus pandemic showed signs of easing in Europe, with the number of new infections slowing in Germany, and Spain reporting the fewest fatalities in four weeks.

Coronavirus deaths in Spain rose by 410 to 20,453 on Sunday, the smallest one-day increase since March 22, when 394 people died, according to the country’s Health Ministry. In Germany, confirmed cases increased by the least in four days and the number of fatalities rose by the fewest in five days. Figures released in the U.K. also revealed the social-distancing measures taking hold.

Still, emerging from the widespread lockdown isn’t following a uniform pattern. Germany is allowing smaller stores, car dealerships, bike shops and book stores to reopen on Monday, and schools will begin readmitting some students in early May in the first few steps to normalcy. In Spain by contrast, a lockdown that’s been in place since mid-March could be extended well into May, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, and Italy won’t do any significant easing before May 4.

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While the numbers reported in some of the hardest-hit countries, including Spain, Italy and the U.K. are encouraging, governments are wary of loosening restrictions too soon and too widely to avoid a second wave of mass infections. Spain is the second European country after Italy to report more than 20,000 deaths linked to the virus, out of a total of 195,944 people who have been infected.

“Spain has contained the brutal attack of the pandemic,” Sanchez said in a nationally televised speech on Saturday. “The gains aren’t enough yet, and they are fragile.”

Across the border in Portugal, the daily increase in new confirmed coronavirus cases was also the lowest in a month. Compared with Spain, the government has shut down the economy to a lesser degree, with industrial and transport activities allowed to continue.

Managing the economic and social fallout from the lockdowns is becoming increasingly difficult for governments as the strain on businesses and workers intensifies. The coronavirus is likely to trigger the worst recession in theEuropean Union’s history, and some officials warned that slump could be worse than the 7.5% drop predicted for the region by theInternational Monetary Fund.

To bolster the response, European countries will need at least 500 billion euros ($544 billion) in additional funding in a second round of coronavirus relief, European Stability Mechanism Director General Klaus Regling told Corriere della Sera. That’s on top of a 540 billion-euro packageagreed by EU finance ministers earlier this month.

The Italian government’s next coronavirus rescue package will include “serious incentives for tourism companies,” Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini said on Italian television on Saturday, noting that tourism accounts for about 13% of the economy. The government is also working on ways to help lower-income families afford vacations after the nationwide lockdown lifts, he said.

Germany to Open Up

While the German initiative to re-open some retail space was welcomed, it only applies to outlets with 800 square meters (8,611 square feet) of space. That’s frozen out many larger shopping centers and department stores, which complain the approach is arbitrary and penalizes bigger businesses. The government says smaller retailers have less of a buffer to make it through a longer-term hiatus.

In Italy, some companies are also resuming activities tomorrow, including shipyards and a work space operated by luxury retailer Gucci near Florence. The U.K. is also examining a staged easing of the lockdown, with the hospitality industry that includes pubs and restaurants among the last to re-open, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Sunday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to recover from his Covid-19 infection and is in “in cheerful spirits,” Gove told Sky in a separate interview.

The U.K. government said on April 16 that it would extend the country’s lockdown by at least three more weeks. New cases rose by 5,850, figures released on Sunday showed, taking the total number of people who have tested positive to 120,067. Fatalities reached 16,060, an increase of 596, the fewest since April 6 and almost a third down from the number of deaths reported a day earlier.

France has also shown signs of a lockdown bearing fruit. The country yesterday reported 642 new deaths, the smallest increase in five days, while the number of hospitalized patients, including those in intensive care, also declined further. The number of confirmed cases in France stands at 173,956 and fatalities have reached 19,349, official figures show.

— With assistance by Ross Larsen

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