Spain coffee bar
People have coffee in a bar as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease restrictions during the phase one, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, May 11, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Large parts of Europe took the first steps out of the coronavirus lockdowns on Monday, but fresh cases in China and South Korea offered a warning of the dangers of a second wave of cases.

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that the "slow, steady lifting of lockdowns" was key.

"Lifting lockdowns are both complex and difficult," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online news briefing, adding that Germany, South Korea and China all had systems in place to respond to any resurgence in cases.

While France and Spain embraced new freedoms and Britain plotted a path to normality, the Chinese city of Wuhan where the pandemic was born reported a second day of new cases after a month without a sign of the virus.

Germany reported on Monday that new coronavirus infections were accelerating exponentially after early steps to ease its lockdown, agencies reported.

Shopping strips were once again populated in Greece, while in other parts of Europe from the Netherlands to Switzerland and Croatia youngsters headed back to the classroom after weeks at home.

At least 282,447 coronavirus deaths have been recorded since the epidemic surfaced in China late last year, according to an AFP tally on Monday based on official sources.

There have been more than 4.1 million officially recorded cases in 195 countries and territories across the globe.

The United States has recorded most deaths at 79,528. It is followed by Britain (31,855), Italy (30,560), Spain (26,744) and France (26,380).

On a per capita basis, Belgium has the highest fatality rate, with 751 deaths per million inhabitants.

No permits in France

On Monday, the French were able to venture outdoors without filling in a permit for the first time in nearly eight weeks.

Some shops and salons reopened their doors.

The wide boulevards of the Champs-Elysees in Paris were once again back to life with cars and shoppers waiting patiently to make purchases, but things were not as before, AFP reported.

Spain eases restrictions

Parts of Spain eased restrictions amid a slowing coronavirus epidemic that saw the number of new fatalities drop to a near two-month low. About half of Spain’s 47 million people moved to Phase 1 of a four-step plan to relax one of Europe's strictest lockdowns on Monday after the government decided that the regions in which they live met the necessary criteria, AFP reported.

About 40% of Spain’s total small businesses and 60% in areas under Phase 1 have reopened, according to the National Federation of Autonomous Workers. In the hospitality industry, just up to 20% of businesses have reopened across Spain.

Cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, which have been particularly hard hit by the epidemic, have been left behind for now.

UK unveils ‘cautious roadmap’

The British government on Monday published a "cautious roadmap" to ease the seven-week coronavirus lockdown in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said some rules would be relaxed as part of a "carefully planned timetable" of measures, AFP reported.

Among the first set out in the 50-page plan is the reintroduction of unlimited outdoor exercise from Wednesday. People can also meet one person from outside their household and drive to places for recreation.

It urges those working in construction, manufacturing and other manual jobs to return to work, while encouraging those able to work from home to continue to do so.

The government is now also advising people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport.

In a second phase, nurseries and children up to the age of 11 could then start to return to school from June 1 at the earliest, and some non-essential shops could reopen.

Cultural events and elite sport could also restart from the same day - but behind closed doors, with the aim of re-opening "at least some" of the remaining businesses, including pubs, from July 4.

China’s Wuhan records new cases

Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, reported on Monday its first cluster of infections since a lockdown on the city was lifted a month ago. The city reported five new confirmed cases, all from the same residential compound.

Wuhan plans to conduct nucleic acid city-wide testing over a period of 10 days, according to an internal document, Reuters reported. Every district in the city has been told to submit a detailed testing plan by Tuesday for their respective area, the document showed.

Russia to ease measures

Russia masks smartphones
Women wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus look at their smartphones in downtown St.Petersburg, Russia, Monday, May 11, 2020. Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared an end to a nationwide partial economic shutdown but noted that some restrictions will remain. Image Credit: AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced a gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown measures despite a new surge in infections which took Russia's tally past Italy's, making it the fourth highest in the world.

Putin, in a televised nationwide address, said that from Tuesday he would start lifting restrictions that had forced many people to work from home and businesses to temporarily close, Reuters reported.

He unveiled new support measures for businesses and for families with children who have seen their livelihoods devastated. He said unemployment had doubled to 1.4 million in a month and he wanted to try to stop it spiralling higher.

New Zealand calls for vigilance

New Zealand, meanwhile, will phase out its lockdown over the next 10 days, although some restrictions will remain.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned in a televised address that "none of us can assume COVID is not with us", but said the country had only 90 active cases after a seven-week lockdown.

"Your efforts, New Zealand, have got us to this place ahead of most of the world and without the carnage that COVID has inflicted in many other places," she said.

"But there are risks ahead, so please be vigilant."

- with inputs from agencies