Coronavirus lockdown measures were finally being eased on Monday for people in Madrid and Barcelona, the two cities worst affected by the coronavirus in Spain, as governments across Europe grappled with how and when to safely let in foreign travellers to salvage the vital summer tourist season.
Residents in the two Spain cities could meet in groups of up to 10 people in their homes or on the terraces of bars and restaurants.
The gates of the capital’s parks were allowed to reopen, and major museums were able to receive a limited number of visitors.
The Madrid and Barcelona regions, the most populated in the country, and a large part of Castile-Leon in the northwest were moving into the first phase of Spain’s four-phase deconfinement programme, following what has been one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.
These regions have been on a slower deconfinement track as they bore the brunt of the pandemic in Spain, which has killed almost 29,000 people to date, one of the world’s highest tolls. Europe has seen over 169,000 dead, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Everyone must continue to wear a mask, which is already compulsory in buildings and on public streets when it is not possible to keep a distance of two metres (six feet).
The rest of the country meanwhile – 22 million out of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants – was moving on to the second phase, which is expected to last until the end of June.
Restaurants may then reopen to a limited number of customers, and outings for walks or sports will no longer be limited to certain hours of the day.
As the summer heat arrives, beaches on the Atlantic Ocean coast and in much of Andalusia, as well as on the Balearic and Canary Islands, were opened for swimming, subject to safety measures.
Only locals will benefit for the time being. Travel between regions is still forbidden and foreigners arriving in Spain must quarantine for 14 days.
But the government plans to reopen the borders to foreign tourists in July.
“We will guarantee that tourists aren’t at risk and that they don’t represent a risk (to Spain),” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
In Europe, with infection numbers stabilising, governments continued towards lighter social distancing measures with more easing Monday, but they remain keen to avoid a second wave of cases that could further devastate the hard-hit continent.
Restaurants, bars and swimming pools are among several types of businesses were allowed to reopen in the Czech Republic, which has reported nearly 9,000 cases.
The nation will even allow events with up to 300 people, and Czechs are no longer obliged to wear face masks in public except in shops and on public transport.
Elsewhere in Europe, cafes and restaurants in Greece were gearing up to reopen – but only those with outdoor service. At the end of May, Greece plans to announce the list of countries from which tourists will be able to travel to Greece without having to go into a two-week quarantine.
Meanwhile, nightclubs and bars were to resume business in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, zoos and museums were allowed to reopen in Copenhagen, while Rome’s swimming pools and sports centre were allowed to reopen.
Italy, which plans to open regional and international borders on June 3 in a bid to boost tourism, was only now allowing residents back to beaches in their own regions.
In Germany, domestic tourists were allowed to return to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state in the northeast – home to the country’s Baltic Sea coast – and to hotels in Berlin, the popular capital.
France was relaxing its border restrictions, allowing in migrant workers and family visitors from other European countries. But is calling for a voluntary 14-day quarantine for people arriving from Britain and Spain, because those countries imposed a similar requirement on the French.
On the weekend, beachside communities along England’s coast urged Londoners and others to stay away after rules were eased to allow people to drive any distance for exercise or recreation. The southern coastal city of Brighton put it: “Wish you were here but not just yet”.
Wales kept up its “Later” tourism campaign, reminding people that its hotels, restaurants and tourist sites were still closed.