Europe Faces ‘Devilish Dilemma’ Amid Signs Lockdowns Are Working

(Bloomberg) --

The Netherlands moved to begin easing restrictions after new coronavirus infections dropped, joining a host of other countries relaxing rigid lockdowns, while the number of patients in French intensive care due to the outbreak fell to the lowest in three weeks.

Dutch primary schools and daycare centers will start to reopen on May 11, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday, after the nation reported the fewest newest cases in almost a month. In France, the number of ICU patients fell for a 13th day to the lowest since March 30, adding to signs curbs are combating the spread of the virus.

Against that background, a widening range of governments are laying out plans for a gradual return to normality. Italy will present a blueprint this week to ease its lockdown, joining Germany, France and Austria in relaxing rules as coronavirus infection rates fall and pressure mounts to reopen businesses. With more than 100,000 fatalities in the region, Europe’s leaders are seeking to strike a balance between saving lives and securing jobs.

“I say it outright, we are faced with devilish dilemmas,” Rutte told reporters at a televised briefing in The Hague. “I have also struggled with that in recent days.”

Within weeks, adolescents up to 18 years old will be allowed to resume group sports under certain conditions, Rutte said. Other schools and universities should prepare for “1.5 meter schools,” he said.

Italy Resets

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte aims to roll out a detailed restart program beginning on May 4. On Tuesday, the nation reported an almost equal number of virus recoveries and infections for the first time.

“We must loosen restrictions,” Conte told lawmakers in Italy’s Senate. “We must do everything possible to preserve the industrial sector. The country’s engines must restart.”

Serbia eased one of Europe’s strictest coronavirus lockdown regimes, allowing small businesses to reopen and relaxing a daily curfew that had kept most citizens indoors since mid-March. In Croatia, citizens can now move within their county of residence and Slovenia opened some businesses on Monday.

Stay Safe

Still, European Union governments must remain vigilant, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said, urging caution in easing lockdowns. Quick, uncoordinated exits risk jeopardizing citizens and medical staff, she told members of the European Parliament’s health committee.

In the U.K., a further 852 people have died in hospitals from coronavirus, authorities said Tuesday, a sharp increase from prior days, a reminder of lingering dangers.

“It isn’t clear there is an enormous downturn at this point,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said. “We remain in a situation of danger that we must take very seriously indeed.”

Beer Festival

Because of contagion risks, Munich canceled its famed Oktoberfest for the first time since World War II on Tuesday, and Spain won’t hold the traditional running-of-the-bulls festival in Pamplona in July.

Irish authorities banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people until at least the end of August even after new cases fell to the lowest since April 8. In the Netherlands, a ban on mass events, including professional football and music festivals, was extended by three months until Sept. 1. Bars, restaurants and barber shops, will stay closed until at least May 19.

“The freedom of one person can’t come at the expense of another,” Rutte said, adding that “the corona-crisis is probably one of the biggest, most fundamental, most threatening periods in our lifetimes.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.