Restart or re-stop? Economies reopen but chaos abounds
Paris: Plastic barriers and millions of masks appeared Monday on the streets of Europe’s newly reopened cities, as France and Belgium emerged from lockdowns, the Netherlands sent children back to school and Greece and Spain further eased restrictions.
All faced a delicate balance of trying to restart battered economies without fueling a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Social distancing was the order of the day but just how to do that on public transit and in schools was the big question.
With Monday’s partial reopening, the French did not have to carry forms allowing them to leave their homes but crowds quickly developed at some metro stations in Paris, one of France’s viral hot spots. A last-minute legal challenge emerged to the government’s practice of confining people to their own regions, further confusing the post-lockdown landscape.
Antoinette van Zalinge, principal of the De Notenkraker elementary school in Amsterdam, wore a wide white skirt and a hula hoop slung from her shoulders and carried a long stick with a hand at one end so she could shake hands with students while still keeping 1.5-meters (5-foot) apart.
In Paris, hairdressers practiced their new workflow over the weekend ahead of Monday’s reopening, and planned to charge a “participation fee” for the new disposable protective gear they’ll need for each customer. Walk-in customers will be a thing of the past, said Brigitte L’Hoste, manager of the “Hair de Beauté” salon, who expects the number of appointments to be cut in half.
“The face of beauty will change, meaning clients won’t come here to relax. Clients will come because they need to,” said Aurelie Bollini, a beautician at the salon. “They will come and aim at getting the maximum done in the shortest time possible.”
Roughly half of Spain’s 47 million people stepped into a softer version of the country’s strict confinement, beginning to socialize, shop in small stores and enjoy outdoor seating in restaurants and bars. Its biggest cities of Madrid and Barcelona remained under lockdown, however.
Fears about new waves of infection have been born out in Germany, where a new cluster was linked to a slaughterhouse; in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus started; and in South Korea, where a single nightclub customer was linked to 85 new infections.
The South Korean government pushed back hard against that wave, halting the school re-openings that had been planned for this week and re-imposing restrictions on nightclubs and bars. It is now trying to track 5,500 people who had visited a popular Seoul entertainment district by checking credit-card transactions, mobile-phone records and security camera footage.
In Germany, gyms re-opened in the most populous state, but authorities there and in France have said any backsliding in the daily number of infections could lead to new restrictions.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with the virus,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said on BFM television.
The hurdles ahead for tourism and the service industries were clear, even in places where infections are diminished. Shanghai Disneyland reopened to visitors, but let in limited numbers and demanded that they wear face masks and have their temperatures checked.
“We hope that today’s reopening serves as a beacon of light across the globe, providing hope and inspiration to everyone,” the president of Shanghai Disney Resort, Joe Schott, told reporters.
In the UK — which has the second-most coronavirus deaths in the world behind the US — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country’s lockdown but urged citizens not to surrender the progress already made. Some people, however, were confused as the government shifted its slogan from “stay home” slogan to “stay alert” and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stuck with the old slogan.
People in jobs that can’t be done at home “should be actively encouraged to go to work” this week, he said. He also set a goal of June 1 to begin reopening schools and shops if the U.K. can control new infections and the rate that each patient infects others. Johnson himself is the only world leader to recover from a serious bout of COVID-19.
“We will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity,” Johnson promised. “We’re going to be driven by the science, the data, and public health.” In the U.S., Trump administration officials spoke optimistically about a relatively quick rebound from the pandemic — but then had to announce that Vice President Mike Pence “self-isolating” after one of his aides tested positive.(AP)