By Maisie Marston
After 76 days of strict lockdown, Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases of coronavirus were reported, has begun to allow healthy citizens out of their houses. On April 7, the day before the complete lockdown was lifted, China reported no deaths for the first time since it started to publish figures.
Italy, which became the epicentre for the outbreak in late March, has also announced plans to gradually exit lockdown. In a Facebook post, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that “A reasonable expectation is that we will apply it from May 4.” At present, a restricted number of shops and businesses have reopened.
Last week, other European countries joined Italy in announcing plans to relax lockdown measures. Austria, which recorded its first coronavirus case in late-February and locked down just a week after Italy, has recently begun reopening thousands of shops. Further plans could see museums reopen their doors by mid-May. Since the end of March, Austria has seen the number of new daily infections fall consistently.
Neighbouring Germany which has been praised for its response to the crisis has also taken the first steps to take itself out of lockdown. Smaller shops have been permitted to reopen, and some pupils are expected to be back in school at the beginning of May. It has been announced that other restrictions, such as a ban on gatherings of more than two people, will remain in place until further notice. According to data released by the Robert Koch Institute for disease control, the person-to-person infection rate in Germany (the number of people infected by somebody who has the infection) has now dropped to 0.7. The German Health Minister Jens Spahn has since said that “as things stand today, the outbreak is again controllable.”
Elsewhere, in Spain and France, officials have said that lockdown would continue.
In Scandinavia, Denmark and Norway have also taken the first steps to ease restrictions. Both countries have begun to allow younger children to go back to school. Denmark was the second European country to go into lockdown despite at the time having significantly fewer confirmed cases. This is now believed to be what helped Denmark “flatten the curve” of the virus. The transmission rate now sits at less than one new infection per case.
Beyond Europe, Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has announced that from this week restrictions on key health and education services will be relaxed. This came after the country’s health authorities reported just 13 new cases within a 24 hour period, the lowest number since the beginning of March. Morrison has since urged the public not to be complacent and to download a new government “contact tracing app” which would enable authorities to map new outbreaks. Using Bluetooth technology, the app can log when somebody comes within 1.5 meters of another person. If that person later tests positive for coronavirus, data would be available to the health authorities on those who have been in contact with them. The app has attracted criticism from some in Morrison’s own party who have concerns about imposing on people’s privacy.
Iran has also begun to open roads and shopping centres. It has been reported that this is to try and stimulate its economy as it struggles with sanctions imposed by the US on its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. This is despite warnings from health authorities that the country may see a second wave of infections.
As cases around the world continue to rise and the duration that people remain in lockdown continues, governments in every continent are now looking ahead to see how they can once again bring back a sense of normality to their economies and populations.