Denmark schools
School children have their lunch during their lunch break at the Korshoejskolen in Randers, on April 15, 2020. Denmark began reopening schools on April 15, 2020 for younger children after a month-long closure over the novel coronavirus, becoming the first country in Europe to do so. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Denmark reopened schools and day care centres on Wednesday as the UN advised countries to evaluate the impact of easing restrictions before making the next move.

With Germany extending its lockdown until May 3 with some easing and the EU unveiling a virus exit plan, more countries are beginning to take steps to end the restrictions in place to combat COVID-19.

Danish mums rebel as schools reopen

Denmark eased its coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday by reopening schools and day care centres, but concerns they might become breeding grounds for a second wave of cases convinced thousands of parents to keep their children at home, Reuters reported.

"I won't be sending my children off no matter what," said Sandra Andersen, the founder of a Facebook group called 'My kid is not going to be a Guinea Pig' that has more than 40,000 followers.

"I think a lot of parents are thinking, 'Why should my little child go outside first'," said the mother of two girls aged five and nine.

The month-long lockdown in Denmark, where the virus has infected more than 6,600 people with close to 300 deaths, has also closed shops, bars, restaurants, cinemas and gyms.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen defended the move, undertaken on health authority recommendations, to ease it by resuming teaching up to fifth grade, saying this would allow parents to return to work and "get the economy going again."

UN advice to nations on easing restrictions

The World Health Organisation has advised countries that ease restrictions to evaluate the impact of changes for two weeks, before easing measures again. In its latest Strategy Update, the UN agency said that the world stands at a "pivotal juncture" in the pandemic and that "speed, scale, and equity must be our guiding principles" when deciding what measures are necessary, Reuters reported.

Every country should implement comprehensive public health measures to maintain a sustainable steady state of low-level or no transmission and prepare its surge capacity to react rapidly to control any spread, the WHO said.

The WHO update said any transition to normal life should be taken gradually, with time to evaluate their impact before new steps are taken.

EU unveils virus exit plan, hoping to avoid more chaos

The European Union on Wednesday warned its 27 nations to move very cautiously as they return to normal life and base their actions on scientific advice.

With Austria, the Czech Republic and Denmark already lifting some lockdown measures, the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, rushed out its roadmap for members of the world's biggest trade bloc to coordinate an exit from the lockdowns, which they expect should take at least a few months and involve large-scale testing, AP reported.

Some 80,000 people have now died in Europe from the disease - about two-thirds of the global toll - according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The commission said those scientists should be relied upon to guide national exit strategies in the weeks and months to come.

Spain's daily death toll slips to 523, coronavirus testing ramping up

Spain healthcare workers
Healthcare workers take a swab from an employee of the Hospital Sant Miquel care home for the elderly during a COVID-19 coronavirus testing campaign in Barcelona on April 15, 2020. Spain recorded 523 deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, a decline from the previous day, but the number of new daily confirmed cases was the highest in six days. Image Credit: AFP

The daily number of deaths from the coronavirus in Spain fell slightly on Wednesday to 523 from 567 the previous day, the health ministry said, as the country was ramping up testing that could allow it to further ease tough restrictions, Reuters reported.

With the total number of fatalities at 18,579, Spain remains one of the world's worst-affected countries, with only the United States and Italy recording higher death tolls. But there is growing evidence the government is managing to flatten the curve on deaths and infections.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said efforts were under way to ramp up testing, to get a tighter grip on the spread of the disease and build a strategy for emerging from a lockdown that has kept most Spaniards confined to their homes since mid-March.

Finland lifts blockade on capital, retains other restrictions

Finland's prime minister lifted a blockade on the Helsinki region on Wednesday, but warned that the epidemic "is not yet under control" and other restrictions will remain.

The government on March 28 shut roads and rail services into and out of Uusimaa county, which contains the capital, to all but essential travel in a bid to stop infections spreading to the rest of the country, AFP reported.

But the growing number of cases outside Helsinki means that the blockade can no longer be justified under state of emergency legislation, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said. "Some regions have seen higher levels of spread than in Uusimaa," Marin told a press conference.

But she called on residents to continue avoiding travel, saying that "now is not the right time to go to the summer cottage."

Other restrictions, such as the closure of schools for older children and bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, will remain in place, Marin said, warning that the country remains "at the mercy of the virus."

EU chief calls May 4 donor conference on virus vaccine

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday called a donors conference for May 4 to fund the creation and global deployment of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, AFP reported. A vaccine "is our collective best shot at beating the virus. To support this global initiative, funding is needed," Brussels' top official told a videolink news conference.

The pledging conference will be held online and will be done in close coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), von der Leyen said.

She added that health charities the Wellcome Trust of Britain and the Gates Foundation of US tech billionaire Bill Gates were involved in the preparations.

Germany to extend lockdown until May 3 with some easing - draft

Germany will consider relaxing restrictions next week on shops introduced last month to slow the spread of the coronavirus while keeping social distancing rules in place until May 3, Reuters reported.

The proposals include reopening schools gradually starting May 4 with priority given to primary and secondary pupils in final years, while day-care centres will remain shut. Schools must prepare a hygiene plan before they reopen their doors.

Religious gatherings will remain banned and restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas and music venues will remain shut.

But retailers whose shops are up to 800 sq metres as well hairdressers, zoos, and public libraries will be allowed to open next week under strict social distancing and hygiene rules, Reuters reported.