European countries begin to ease lockdown restrictions

The spread of coronavirus appears to be slowing in parts of Europe, with Spain and Italy beginning to ease lockdown restrictions and France announcing that it will do as well.

Spain, the third worst coronavirus-hit country in the world, is continuing to see a slow in deaths and cases with the lowest number of new infections reported in more than three weeks.

Some 517 new virus-related deaths were recorded overnight in the country, while the number of confirmed cases logged was nearly 3,500.

The latest figures come as some of Spain's lockdown measures were eased, though the government is keeping most of the country at home for the fifth week in a row.

Heavy industry and construction workers returned to work on Monday after a two-week hiatus in economic activity.

According to Spanish health ministry figures, the overall death toll from the pandemic in the country stands at 17,489 while the total number of confirmed cases is 169,496.

Heavy industry and construction workers are returning to work from Monday after a two-week hiatus in economic activity due to the coronavirus. Credit: AP

As Spain began to gradually ease restrictions, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the extension of France’s strict lockdown until May 11, but said measures would be relaxed after this.

France has been under lockdown since March 17 and on Monday, authorities in the country reported a drop in numbers of people in intensive care for the fifth straight day.

The country registered 574 deaths over the past 24 hours in hospitals and nursing homes, bringing the total number of deaths from the Covid-19 to 14,967 since the outbreak began in France.

France is the fourth-worst hit country in the world for coronavirus deaths.

In his third televised address to the nation on the virus crisis from the Elysee Palace, Mr Macron said he sees “hopeful signs” as the spreading of the virus in the country appears to be stabilising, but he urged the French to keep respecting strict confinement rules for the moment.

Starting from May 11, schools will reopen “progressively”, he said.

Restaurants, cafes, hotels, cinemas, museums and concert halls will remain closed and no big gatherings will be allowed until mid-July, he added.

Mr Macron acknowledged “failures and deficiencies” in a reference to the lack of masks and other equipment.

As a response to the criticism that the country has not conducted enough coronavirus tests, he promised that by May 11, all those who have symptoms will be able to get tested.

Lockdown measures remain in force in France. Credit: AP

The move follows a similar relaxing of stay-at-home measures elsewhere in Europe.

From Tuesday, certain shops will be allowed to open in Italy for the first time since lockdown measures came into force.

In Austria, DIY stores and garden centres have been allowed to reopen, while schools are set to open their doors again in Denmark.

Commuters at a train station in Madrid social distance at a queue for the escalator. Credit: AP

Spain's lockdown measures still require retail stores and services to stay closed, and the government is strongly encouraging office workers to keep working from home.

Some health experts and regional politicians argue that it is premature to ease any part of the lockdown order.

For the few commuters using public transport to get to work in the early hours of Monday morning, police in Madrid handed out face masks to workers.