Children play outside in Spain as European countries work to ease restrictions

Spain, Travel, Strike, protest

As Spain allowed children to play outside for the first time in six weeks and various European countries worked to ease their lockdowns and reopen their economies, governors in the US were moving at differing speeds in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

While leaders in states like hard-hit New York and Michigan were keeping stay-at-home restrictions in place until at least mid-May, their counterparts in Georgia and Oklahoma were allowing salons, spas and barbers to reopen.

The official death toll from the virus has topped 200,000 worldwide, with 2.9 million confirmed infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, although the real figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of inadequate testing and differences in how the deceased are counted.

Italy, Britain, Spain and France account for more than 20,000 deaths each, the US for more than 55,000.

Some encouraging signs were seen, as Italy recorded its lowest 24-hour number of deaths since mid-March, with 260, and New York state registered its fewest since late last month, with 367.

But New York governor Andrew Cuomo sounded a cautious note about any reopening, though he acknowledged officials needed to think about safe activities people could engage in as the crisis wore on.

“You can’t tell people in a dense urban environment all through the summer months: ‘We don’t have anything for you to do’,” the Democrat politician said.

“There’s a sanity equation we need to pay attention to.”

Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, told Fox News Sunday that with hospitalisations dropping in his state, it would reopen churches and restaurant dining on Friday, with social distancing guidelines in place.

While Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told ABC’s This Week that her state needed more robust testing, community tracing and a plan for isolating people who became poorly with Covid-19.

As some states began considering loosening restrictions on churches, one Louisiana pastor already under house arrest for holding mass gatherings conducted a service on Sunday despite the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

A livestream from the Life Tabernacle Church showed Tony Spell walking among more than 100 people in the congregation, most of whom were not wearing face masks.

“Shouldn’t nobody be scared right now but the devil,” he said, adding: “God gave you an immune system to kill that virus.”

With infections and deaths easing in three of the hardest-hit spots in Europe, people in Italy, France and Spain were eager to hear their leaders’ plans for easing some of the world’s strictest lockdowns.

In Spain, the streets echoed again on Sunday with children’s shrieks of joy and the clatter of bicycles.

After 44 days in seclusion, children aged under 14 were allowed out with one parent for up to an hour, as long as they stayed within 1km (0.6 miles) of their homes, took only one toy and did not play with other youngsters.

“This is wonderful! I can’t believe it has been six weeks,” Susana Sabate, a mother of three-year-old twin boys, said in Barcelona.

“My boys are very active. Today when they saw the front door and we gave them their scooters, they were thrilled.”

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez will present a detailed plan on Tuesday for the “de-escalation” of Spain’s lockdown.

His French counterpart likewise said he would unveil a “national deconfinement strategy” on the same day.

“Maximum caution will be our guideline for the rollback,” Mr Sanchez said.

“We must be very prudent, because there is no manual, no road map, to follow.”

Italy’s premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce more details on easing the lockdown there in the coming days.

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