Officials have cautiously eased restrictions on eateries, shops and outdoor venues in some countries as they try to restart economies without triggering a surge in new coronavirus infections.
But the re-openings come with new rules designed to curb the spread of the disease – another indication that the familiar ways of dining out or watching sporting events are gone for now.
Health experts warn that the pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 worldwide, could pick up again if precautions are not taken or officials move too quickly to get people back to work.
In New Zealand, even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her fiance Clarke Gayford were initially turned away for brunch by a restaurant in the capital city, Wellington, because it was too full under coronavirus guidelines.
There was a happy ending: A spot freed up, and staff chased down the street to call the couple back.
Italy’s tourism industry is focused firmly on June 3, when both regional and international borders reopen, allowing the first prospect of tourists since Europe’s first lockdown went into place in early March. In tourist-reliant Venice, occupancy of the city’s 50,000 hotel beds has hovered around zero ever since.
France was also being cautious, calling for a co-ordinated European effort on opening. At the same time, French officials could make decisions “that protect the French” regarding countries “where the virus is still active,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Saturday.
As hundreds of French beaches re-opened, Castaner warned that the government would not hesitate to close them again if rules are not respected, including a ban on sunbathing.
Local authorities were charged with deciding which beaches would reopen as part of a staggered plan to end a strict two-month lockdown that began on March 17. Under the rules, beachgoers can take a dip but cannot lay in the sun or picnic in the sand. Social distancing rules must be maintained, and groups must be limited to 10 people.
“The virus is still there,” Castaner said. “It moves around with our movements.”
In Milan, Italy’s financial capital, 3400 restaurants planned to open on Monday, along with 4800 bars, 2900 hairdressers, 2200 clothing stores and 700 shoe shops.
“After a long period at home, we will all want to go out and have a good coffee in a bar, eat a pizza in a pizzeria, buy a pair of jeans or go to the hairdressers,” Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said Saturday in a Facebook video.
Many restaurant owners complained that the new rules for re-opening were unclear and that the entire sector – including suppliers and food producers – was suffering. Dozens protested outside Milan’s main train station and called for an abolition of taxes and more help.
In Britain, officials and tourism boards discouraged people from visiting popular tourist spots – like beaches or country parks – on the first weekend since lockdown rules were eased in England. Stricter rules remain place in other parts of the UK and English day-trippers have been warned against crossing into Scotland or Wales.
In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he would ask parliament for what he hopes will be the last extension of the country’s state of emergency to battle the coronavirus pandemic, until around late June.
“Spain needs tourism,” Sanchez said on Saturday. “But tourism needs security. It needs health guarantees.”