Face masks set to become the new normal across Europe in coronavirus fight

After weeks of watching the numbers steadily grow across the continent, we come back after Easter to a changing outlook, one in which almost everywhere we see the awful figures for deaths and new infections plateauing or, in many cases, falling.

The numbers of people dying daily from coronavirus remain horrendous, but the 500 to 600 we are seeing each day now in Italy and Spain are significantly better than the daily peaks of over 900. So the talk is now of loosening restrictions and easing the lockdown, albeit very, very slowly.

Spain believes the peak has passed and the next move is for tiny steps towards returning to normality. Non-essential workers in a few sectors are starting to go back to work, including those at some factories, offices, construction sites, in addition to those involved in repairs and maintenance.

The devolved Government of Catalonia, which has suffered very badly, thinks the central government in Madrid is taking “a huge risk”, but remember that the lockdown in Spain has been much stricter than in the UK, with people not even allowed outside to exercise. Ten million face masks have been ordered, with anyone using public transport likely to be handed one before they board.

France, too, sees masks as part of its post-lockdown future, with the likelihood they will be compulsory for anyone going outside after the restrictions are eased on 11 May. President Macron addressed the nation over Easter and said that nothing would change for another three weeks, but that after that some schools may open and other restrictions be eased. However, there will be no major gatherings or public events before mid-July at the earliest.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Credit: PA

Denmark has opened some primary schools this week, with older children likely to allowed back gradually from next week. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says that “the numbers are better than we would have dared hope for”. Denmark locked down hard and early, and may, as a result, be one of the first to return to something like normality.

Italy is opening some small shops, including bookshops and children’s clothing stores. Tiny steps but, in the context of what Italy has been through, really important.

Portugal will mandate face-masks in open spaces if and when the relaxations kick in.

Poland is planing to begin a phased exit from the lockdown later this week, with more details to follow.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know