Shoppers were back on the streets in Austria and Italy today as Europe takes its first tentative steps out of the coronavirus lockdown.
Italy is opening a handful of stores including bookshops and stationery shops in a trial to see how social distancing measures can work after the lockdown, which otherwise remains in force.
In Austria, which was the first European country to announce specific plans for ending the lockdown, shoppers were queuing outside hardware stores wearing compulsory masks as small shops re-opened today.
However, experts are not expecting a surge in customers, because some people will still be too worried to make unnecessary shopping trips and certain stores may choose to stay closed.
Meanwhile, industrial and construction work is resuming in Spain where some workers were back at their jobs yesterday while other regions are returning today after an Easter Monday holiday.
Some commuters in Spain said they felt reassured by the 10million masks which authorities are handing out this week.
AUSTRIA: Shoppers wearing their compulsory face masks wait in a queue outside a hardware store in Eisenstadt today, as a selection of shops were allowed to re-open following the coronavirus lockdown
ITALY: A worker in full protective gear including gloves and a mask inspects the stock at a children’s clothes store in Rome’s Trastevere district this morning, as Italy allowed a limited number of shops to re-open
SPAIN: A woman accepts a face mask from a police officer already wearing one as people returned to work on a rainy morning in Valencia today following a two-week shutdown of all non-essential business
This graphic shows the various restrictions in place in six European countries. Sweden is the only country which still has pubs and restaurants open, allows public gatherings of any size and keeps primary schools open as usual. Spain today lifted a ban on non-essential work travel, which is still allowed in Britain and other countries for people who cannot reasonably work from home. The UK has no special border restrictions, but several countries are only allowing residents to enter. Spain is not allowing exercise as an excuse to go out. Italy does allow a walk near the home, but not cycling
In Italy, most lockdown measures have been extended until May 3 but bookshops, stationery shops and stores selling children’s clothes are allowed to re-open from today.
The slightly loosened restrictions also include forestry and the wood industry on the list of permitted economic activities.
A worker in a full protective suit including gloves and a mask was today examining the stock at a children’s clothes shop in Rome, with a full bottle of sanitary gel nearby.
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte wants a wider economic restart ‘as soon as possible’ but the government says that ‘the conditions are not yet in place’.
Italy has been under a nationwide lockdown since March 9, longer than any other European country, and has seen the infection rate slow considerably in that time.
There is also some disagreement among regions. The governor of Lombardy says bookshops in his hard-hit region will remain closed, but the leader of Liguria wants some construction sites to re-open, Italian media says.
The Lazio region which includes Rome will delay the re-opening of bookshops until next week so that they can be cleaned, while Campania will open the children’s clothes shops only two mornings a week.
A man wearing a face mask, goggles and a protective suit carries out sanitation work in a bookshop in Rome today, with some regions choosing not to implement the changes immediately
A staff member speaks to a customer – both wearing masks – in a children’s clothes store in Rome this morning, as shops such as this one were allowed to re-open on a trial basis to see how social distancing measures would work
A woman opens the door of a children’s store in Rome this morning, more than a month after Italy first went into a nationwide lockdown on March 9
A man sets up a makeshift book sharing library on Piazza Bainsizza in Rome today. Bookshops are one of the few categories of shops which have been allowed to re-open
A woman buys an item from a cashier wearing gloves at a bookshop in Genoa in northern Italy on Tuesday morning
Austria is opening a wider range of small shops today, and is hoping to open larger stores and shopping centres on May 1 if things go well.
Shops up to 4,300 square feet – about twice the size of a tennis court – can open today, along with home improvement stores and garden centres.
There are limits on the number of people allowed inside, and customers are required to wear face masks. Most people are still being advised to work from home if possible.
‘Economically, too, we want to come out of this crisis as quickly as possible and fight for every job in Austria,’ said chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
Restaurants and hotels could reopen progressively from mid-May, Kurz has said.
However, Peter Buchmueller of Austria’s chamber of commerce said traders were not expecting a surge in customers because many shoppers will still be concerned about going outside.
‘It will take a bit of time before it eventually gets back to normal,’ he told Austrian media, saying that people would have to get used to shopping again.
Shops are not being forced to open against their will. Austrian media said there were 4,654 shops eligible to re-open in Vienna today, but it was unclear how many actually would.
Austria’s infection rate has stabilised and it has only reported 368 deaths in total, despite sharing borders with hard-hit Italy and Germany.
A man wearing a face mask holds a spray can in his gloved hand as he shops in a hardware store in Eisenstadt today, as Austria became one of the first European countries to loosen its lockdown restrictions
People push their shopping trolleys in front of a DIY store in Vienna today, with a one-way system imposed at the entrance to enforce social distancing rules
A customer pushes a trolley in the hardware store in Eisenstadt today, as Austria re-opens some shops with a view to opening larger ones and shopping centres on May 1 if things go well
A customer pays at the till of a hardware store in Eisenstadt, with both the shopper and the cashier wearing compulsory face masks under Austrian government rules
People push trolleys in the car park of a hardware store in Vienna this morning, one of the shops which was allowed to re-open in the first stage of Austria’s easing of restrictions today
In Spain, workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors returned to their jobs on Monday after a two-week ‘hibernation’ of all non-essential business.
Spain had imposed the measure on March 30, going further than other nations such as Britain where people have always been allowed to travel to work if they cannot feasibly work from home.
But the measure has not been renewed, and many returned to their jobs yesterday while others will resume today because Easter Monday is a public holiday in some regions of Spain but not others.
Figures released by the Madrid metro showed passenger traffic on Monday was up 24 percent compared with the same time last week.
With workers heading back to their jobs, the government began a huge operation to distribute 10million masks this week.
Some 4,500 police, Red Cross volunteers and security guards handed them out at 1,500 locations across the country, the interior ministry said.
Masks have been hard to come by in recent weeks and some commuters said the handouts put them at ease during their trips to work. ‘It’s wonderful because it’s so necessary and it helps those of us who have to use public transport,’ said office worker Jose Antonio Cruces.
For commuters, having a mask is essential as ‘we don’t know who’s infected or if we ourselves are asymptomatic,’ said healthcare worker Maria Martinez.
While some firms reopened on Monday, shops, bars, restaurants and other non-essential retail businesses remained closed.
Passengers keep their distance on a metro train in Barcelona today, as some people returned to work in Spain. Catalonia and the region around Madrid have been the worst-affected parts of Spain
Red Cross workers hand out face masks at the Passeig de Gracia metro station in Barcelona this morning, with some people returning to work in the construction and manufacturing industries
A man takes a face mask from a police officer wearing a visor at the door of a bus in Valencia this morning
Spanish authorities are planning to hand out millions of masks this week, including in Madrid where this woman took one from a police officer this morning