Italian companies wonder how they will survive as the restrictions are loosened but not completely lifted. Students are returning to socially distant schools in Germany, where newly reopened barbershops are facing huge demand to correct the wrongdoings of weeks of home haircuts. Belgians can use public transport again, but face coverings are mandatory, while small shops are reopening in Greece and Portugal.
“Phase 2” of the Italian plan to ease the restrictions began on Monday, with over 4 million people expected to return to work, some public transport services restored and many companies are about to reopen, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Facebook. “As never before, the future of the country will be in our hands”.
Although industries such as textiles and manufacturing are recovering, many non-essential stores remain closed. While bars and restaurants have been allowed to reopen on Monday, they can only offer takeaway.
Franco, the owner of the Il Bello Cafe bar in Rome, said that the partial relaxation of restrictions would not be enough to keep many establishments afloat.
“Today I have just reopened, but it is not even worth it. There is so little work for us, few people are coming, but also the bar is not just about buying a coffee or a cappuccino, it is a conversation It’s social, “Franco, who refused to give his surname, told CNN. “The government does what it has to do for the pandemic, but the bar and our job are something else – it doesn’t fit in with these measures.”
He said he was still paying the rent, electricity and gas but that he was only earning 30% of what he was doing before the blockade. “My staff is worried, but so am I. I may have to shut down and have been here for 14 years,” he said. “Soon there will be so many layoffs in this area.”
The Italian government said that to completely reopen stores, bars and restaurants, the coronavirus reproduction rate must be slowed down to 0.5, which means that every infected Italian is infecting less than one other person (an “R0 value” of 1, for example, means that every infected person is infecting another person). To reopen theaters, conventions and stadiums, Italy wants the number to be as close as possible to 0. Currently the figure is around 0.6-0.7 nationally.
Owners of restaurants, bars and shops across Italy last week “handed over their keys” to local mayors to protest the slow reopening, and Conte apologized on Friday for a delay in paying financial aid to businesses affected by the pandemic. .
A joint letter from 13 of the 20 Italian regions last Wednesday asked the government “to guarantee the possibility of reopening the activities to all those who respect the measures already envisaged” by the blocking decree. “It is clear that health is the first essential goal, but it cannot be the only one,” added the letter.
There have also been frustrations in other countries. German hairdressers opened Monday after closing weeks, but clients are unable to enter – now they need an appointment and in Berlin they have to fill in a questionnaire.
A Hamburg salon said it was “invaded” by customers, while Udo Walz, a hairdresser from Berlin stars, told CNN that its salons would be booked for the next three weeks.
“I was in the shop this morning, everyone is wearing masks, customers, hairdressers, it’s a little fun,” said Walz. “Most customers show 2 centimeters of roots. Some have tried to cut their hair on their own or cover the color, but it usually went wrong, although I gave advice on the phone.”
Salons must observe the rules for social removal, so Walz said that every other chair must remain empty, which works for him as he has large salons. While Walz didn’t have to lay off any of his 86 employees, he acknowledged that they lost financially. “They had no tips and this is important because we have a good clientele. Their wages have been reduced a bit, but we have a great team.”
Other European countries are gradually easing the restrictions. Spain allowed people outdoors to practice alone this weekend for the first time in seven weeks. Portugal opens small shops on Monday and people in Belgium can travel by public transport but must wear a mask, reports AFP.
Traffic increased on Greek streets on Monday as small stores including hairdressers, flower shops and bookstores were reopened and lines formed outside of home appliance retailers, Reuters reported. Greece, which has been praised for its response to the coronavirus, plans to welcome tourists again this summer.
The UK, meanwhile, has not yet relaxed its restrictions but is also planning to return to work. A draft government plan is considering staggered departures, maximizing work from home and hygiene measures such as two meters distance and physical screens, according to British media reports.
UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps said that more public transport will soon be in operation, although he suggested that people would be encouraged to walk or go to work on their return. The suggestion was welcomed with concern by the three major British railway unions, who said Monday in a letter to the Prime Minister that now was not the time to drive multiple trains because there was no agreement on how to protect workers and passengers.
Government office minister Michael Gove told the Downing Street briefing on Sunday that “the worst thing to do” would be to prematurely relax the measures and risk a second spike in the disease. He said the UK should proceed cautiously, raising serious questions about what the long-term financial impact could be.
When Europe reopens, the big question is what the once vibrant continent will look like as we move into a different future from what we all expected. It certainly has changed forever.
Emma Reynolds wrote from London, Valentina Di Donato reported from Rome and Stephanie Halasz reported from London. Sharon Braithwaite and Lindsay Isaac contributed to the report.
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