Europe Takes Steps to Reopen as Covid Vaccinations Ramp Up
Western Europe is beginning to loosen restrictions to contain the coronavirus, offering relief for the pandemic-weary region as vaccination programs turn the corner.
Italy will ease many restrictions on Monday, Greece will follow suit in early May, and Germany is mulling privileges for people who have been immunized. On Thursday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex told reporters there will be “a cautious and progressive” re-opening of the country from mid-May.
After a slow start to inoculation programs, Western Europe is starting to see progress in protecting its people against Covid-19, which has caused more than 640,000 deaths across the continent.
As supplies increase, Germany may be in a position to lift vaccination prioritization by June, a step that would open access to all adults, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.
“If it’s earlier than that, then I will be pleased but we shouldn’t raise expectations,” Spahn said in a speech to the upper house of parliament on Thursday.
As the pace of contagion slows in Italy, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government is restoring free travel between moderate-risk regions, and people can go to more at-risk areas under certain conditions, including a pass certifying vaccination. Bars and restaurants will also be allowed to open outdoor areas, according to the new rules.
In France, curbs on inter-regional travel will be lifted on May 3, four weeks after they were announced by President Emmanuel Macron. But a curfew between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. will remain in place, a government spokesman said.
“The peak of the third wave seems to be behind us,” Castex said during the press conference. In discussing the plans for re-opening, he emphasized that the time-line is conditional and that not all venues will re-open at once.
Greece will ease its main pandemic restrictions -- including allowing outdoor dining -- in early May, ahead of the country’s opening to international travel in the middle of the month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday. Tourism is one of the country’s most important industries, accounting for about a fifth of the economy and more than a quarter of jobs.
To accelerate immunizations, Greece will start administering unused doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine to people between 30 and 39 years old.
To be sure, the situation remains tense. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel secured passage of a controversial law on Thursday, which triggers tighter restrictions in virus hot spots, including nighttime curfews and closing schools and non-essential stores.
While Germany’s contagion rate has stabilized in recent days, it’s still well-above levels the government has determined to be manageable and the number of patients in intensive-care facilities continues to rise.
Vaccine progress also varies widely across the continent, casting doubt over the timing of reopening in some countries, especially in the east.
While the island nation of Malta has already administered 67 doses per 100 adults, Bulgaria is only at 11 doses per 100. The average for the whole EU is 31.6, with countries including Hungary, Estonia and Denmark leading the push, and Latvia and Croatia among those lagging behind.
“Without a doubt, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Merkel said in a speech on Thursday. “And it will get lighter in the summer, but we’re still stuck in the tunnel.”
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