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Children in Spain relish outdoor hour as lockdown eases

A police officer patrols the promenade of the beach in Barcelona (Emilio Morenatti/AP)
A police officer patrols the promenade of the beach in Barcelona (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Shrieks of joy rang out Sunday in the streets of Spain as children were allowed to leave their homes for the first time in six weeks.

The sound of children shouting and the rattle of bikes on the pavement after the 44-day seclusion of Spain’s youngest citizens offered a first taste of a gradual return to normal life in the country.

Spain has the second-highest number of confirmed infections, behind the United States.

Global coronavirus cases and deaths
(PA Graphics)

“This is wonderful! I can’t believe it has been six weeks,” Susana Sabate, a mother of three-year-old twin boys, said in Barcelona.

“My boys are very active. Today when they saw the front door and we gave them their scooters, they were thrilled.”

Wary of igniting new infection flare-ups, nations around the world have been taking different paths on when to reopen their economies after weeks at a standstill under coronavirus lockdowns.

The number of deaths officially attributed to coronavirus has topped 200,000 globally and at least 2.9 million people have been infected, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Those figures are widely believed to understate the true toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing, problems in counting the dead and some governments’ moves to underplay their outbreaks.

Spain, Italy and France, which have Europe’s highest death tolls from the virus, all imposed tough lockdown rules in March.

Virus Outbreak India
Disaster Response Force personnel disinfect a containment zone in Hyderabad, India (Mahesh Kumar A./AP)

All have reported significant progress in bringing down infection rates and are ready, warily, to start giving their citizens more freedom.

“Maximum caution will be our guideline for the rollback,” Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said Saturday as he announced that Spaniards will be allowed to leave their homes for short walks and exercise starting on May 2.

“We must be very prudent because there is no manual, no road map to follow.”

So far, Spanish adults were allowed out only for essential shopping or to go to work that cannot be done from home.

Children under 14 have been in complete seclusion, but as of Sunday they were allowed to take walks with one parent for up an hour.

They must be within one kilometre of their homes, take only one toy with them and are not allowed to play with other children.

Virus Outbreak Ukraine
People wearing face masks at a ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, to remember the Chernobyl tragedy (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Authorities recommend that parents and children wash their hands before and after outings.

Mr Sanchez will present a detailed plan Tuesday for the “de-escalation” of the lockdown for the coming weeks.

In France, prime minister Edouard Philippe said he will unveil the “national deconfinement strategy” on Tuesday.

It follows weeks of work by experts on how to find a balance between restarting the eurozone’s second-largest economy and preventing a second wave of infections that could overwhelm intensive care units.

French President Emmanuel Macron had already announced that France’s lockdown would start to be lifted beginning on May 11.

Mr Philippe’s speech will flesh out the details, covering health, schooling, work, shops, transport and gatherings. The lockdown has been raising tensions in France’s poorest areas.

Nicaragua Boxing
People wearing protective face masks watch a fight in Nicaragua (Alfredo Zuniga/AP)

Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce more details easing the lockdown in the coming days for the first European country to see a large-scale coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Conte told the La Repubblica publication that priorities would include restarting construction and export industries so that businesses would not “risk being cut out” of markets. He also confirmed that school classes would not begin until September.

Several countries in Europe are already further along in easing lockdowns. Germany started allowing non-essential shops and other facilities to open last week and Denmark has reopened schools for some children.

Germany’s restaurants and tourism industry are among those still awaiting word on a way forward in Europe’s largest economy, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated that more major decisions will not come before May 6.

Germany’s top diplomat said Europe must move “as quickly as possible, but as responsibly as necessary” to restore freedom to travel.

“A European race to be the first to allow tourist trips again would lead to unacceptable risks,” foreign minister Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“We have already seen what a cluster of infections in a popular holiday area can do in the tourists’ home countries. That must not be repeated.”

Virus Outbreak Malaysia
A man collect supplies over barbed wire in the coronavirus locked down area of Selayang Baru, Malaysia (Vincent Thian/AP)

That was an apparent reference to ski resorts such as Ischgl in Austria, where dozens of tourists were infected and carried the virus as far away as Iceland and Norway.

The US has the world’s highest officially confirmed infections and deaths, with more than 50,000 fatalities and about 940,000 infections reported so far in the Johns Hopkins tally, but it has wide regional variations.

While some US states are easing restrictions, Hawaii extended its stay-at-home order until the end of May.

In Asia, India allowed local shops to reopen this weekend, though not in the places that have been hit hardest.

The Chinese city of of Wuhan, where the pandemic began, said all major construction projects have resumed in a push to restart factory production and other economic activity after a two-and-a-half-month lockdown. The outbreak has largely subsided in China.

South Korea, which recently relaxed some social distancing rules, saw a ninth straight day with fewer than 20 new cases but the city-state of Singapore reported 931 new cases as it battles an outbreak among foreign workers living in crowded dormitories.