Member States hope to start easing Coronavirus restrictions

The European Commission is set to announce a “roadmap to exit” the Coronavirus lockdown across the EU.

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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

14 Apr 2020

Lockdowns were introduced at different times in Member States and many believe that, given the scale of the pandemic, talk of “exit strategies” is too premature.

Nevertheless, Austria, Denmark and the Czech Republic have already presented an exit strategy from the strict lockdown measures.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she expects to open day care and schools up to fifth grade from 15 April and more employees will also be allowed to return to the workplace. Denmark went into lockdown on March 11.


Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz says that from 14 April, small shops will be allowed to reopen as well as state parks, albeit with tight entry controls. From 1 May, all shops, shopping centres and hairdressers will be allowed to open while schools are also expected to reopen by the start of May.

Both Austria and Denmark say they will still be keeping social distancing rules and frequent hand washing instructions in place.

In France, some schools will be allowed to progressively reopen from May 11. President Emmanuel Macron on Monday extended the general confinement until May 11 but said measures will gradually ease after that point. At the same time he warned “the epidemic is not under control yet.”

In Spain, among the worst hit by the crisis and in lockdown since March 14, some factories and construction sites will be allowed to reopen, but police are handing out protective masks to the public in an effort to minimise the risks of the virus spreading.

“Member states have failed miserably to coordinate when going into the crisis. They now need to do better when restarting the economy. The exit strategy can serve as a useful template to achieve this” Markus Ferber MEP

Bars and restaurants are to remain closed beyond the current deadline of April 26.

Italy, another EU country particularly hard hit by the crisis, extended the lockdown on Sunday for three weeks. But small shops and businesses can reopen on Tuesday and bigger ones at a later date.

Factories making industrial machinery will resume. Schools will not reopen until September.

As part of the easing of its lockdown, the Czech Republic plans a new “smart quarantine system” to track the movements of infected citizens. The monitoring system uses data from devices such as mobile phones and payment cards of people who have tested positive for Coronavirus.

Norway is expected to end its lockdown this week after the country’s transmission rate fell to 0.7.

It has had a high rate of testing which has enabled authorities to identify and isolate those suffering mild symptoms.

In Belgium, meanwhile, infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe has been put at the helm of a new committee formed to develop its “exit strategy.”

The group of 10 scientists, legal advisors and economists will determine how and when to ease off restrictions. Belgium's national security council will meet on Wednesday to discuss whether the stay-at-home restrictions should be extended until 3 May.

According to a study of 10,000 people by the University of Ghent, public motivation to respect the measures is starting to drop among young and old alike and Belgian authorities are preparing a public information campaign to encourage people to keep abiding by the rules.

“The danger of starting to think about an exit strategy is that people get the impression that the exit is close by, but that is the wrong picture” Marc Van Ranst, Belgian virologist

“The danger of starting to think about an exit strategy is that people get the impression that the exit is close by, but that is the wrong picture,” said Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst.

In the UK, new Labour leader Keir Starmer has called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself just out of hospital after contracting Coronavirus, to publish the UK government's exit strategy.

The UK government is facing demands to reveal its Coronavirus exit strategy as countries across Europe begin to plan life after lockdown. Experts believe the UK is still several weeks from loosening controls but say the country is in dire need of knowing that there is a plan in place.

Meanwhile, the European Commission will announce a “roadmap to exit” the lockdown across the EU on Wednesday (15 April).

The Commission’s aim, said a source, is to issue guidance for EU governments, saying that any loosening of confinement should be “gradual” and measures concerning a large number of people “should progressively be replaced by targeted ones.”

This means that the “most vulnerable groups such as the elderly would be protected for longer” and those who have tested positive with Coronavirus “would remain quarantined.”

German MEP Markus Ferber, EPP spokesman for economic and monetary affairs, said, “A coordinated approach is key. Member states have failed miserably to coordinate when going into the crisis. They now need to do better when restarting the economy. The exit strategy can serve as a useful template to achieve this.”

Last week, a European Commission spokesman confirmed that Austria and Denmark had told the executive and all Member States of their exit strategy plans, adding, “We understand that these strategies are very gradual will be implemented step-by-step, one important element that we will certainly be highlighting.”

The spokesman said the Commission opposed anything that might “undermine the effectiveness of the tough measures that have been taken.”

He said the Commission did not yet have a “fully-fledged analysis” of the exit strategies put forward by Denmark and Austria, adding “but I understand they are very gradual and aim to be implemented step by step.”

It is understood that the Commission wants to be assured that the threat of further infection has “significantly decreased” and  national health systems have “sufficient capacity” before the easing of restrictions is introduced.

The Commission had hoped last week to unveil a “roadmap” on possible exit strategies for Member States, but this was later downgraded to what it called "an orientation debate.”

A draft Commission paper on exit strategies states that when exiting “respect and solidarity" is “essential” so that “as a minimum” countries should notify each other and the executive “in due time before they lift measures.”

Any exit, it states, must be gradual and measures should “progressively be replaced by targeted ones” so that more vulnerable groups such as the elderly “must be protected for longer.”

Lifting of measures “must start at local level and be gradually extended,” the paper says.

The EU, together with Britain and Norway have, to date, recorded more than 600,000 cases of COVID-19, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Officials have reported more than 51,000 deaths, most of them in Italy and Spain.

EU Commissioner for justice Didier Reynders said, “We all must work together now to get through this unprecedented crisis. The Commission is supporting Member States in their efforts to fight the virus and we will continue to do so when it comes to an exit strategy and to recovery.”

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