Europe’s Declining Virus Deaths Spur Tensions on Easing Limits

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Deaths from the coronavirus declined in Spain and Germany, putting pressure on political leaders to further ease restrictions that have strangled Europe’s economy.

Spain’s 164 fatalities were the fewest in more than six weeks, while Germany’s 76 deaths were the lowest since March 31. In Italy, where lockdown rules are slowly being lifted, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte apologized for delays in distributing financial aid and pushed back against criticism, especially in the industrial north, that he’s being too cautious.

“There is delusion among many economic operators,” Conte told La Stampa. “I understand them, but to restart the economic cycle of goods and services that are less essential we need customers to feel safe and protected.”

While Spain allowed residents out of their homes to exercise and walk this weekend for the first time since mid-March, the easing of lockdown restrictions in a stir-crazy continent lays bare the fears of some companies — and their employees — that they won’t survive the economic pandemic.

“I’m not sure what will be left,” said Alberto Visentini, whose sporting goods store near Milan’s Central Station has been shut since early March. Visentini, 61, had originally been told he could reopen March 25.

The euro-area economy could shrink as much as 12% this year and fail to return to its pre-coronavirus size until the end of 2022, the European Central Bank said last week. The report is the latest to show how early predictions of a strong rebound in the second half of the year have given way to uncertainty over the timing of the recovery, as countries plot different paths to ease lockdowns.

In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez faces a parliamentary vote this week on extending the state of emergency that began March 14. With the vote scheduled for May 6, the phase-out of the lockdown is set to start May 4 and proceed in stages, depending on local pandemic data. Sanchez said yesterday that the Spanish economy, which is driven by tourism, would likely contract more than 9% this year.

Four islands, three in the Canaries and one in the Balearics, will be the first areas allowed to open restaurants, bars, hotels and stores following strict guidelines regarding social distancing. Spain’s government has said the use of masks will be mandatory on public transport as of Monday.

Ahead of the phasing out, over the weekend, the government allowed people out of their homes to exercise and walk. It has set time slots for when exercise is allowed and when people over 65 can be on the street, given their higher risk from the disease.

The U.K., the region’s second-biggest economy, has been slower to ease restrictions. While the government insists the country has past the peak of the outbreak, the virus continues to claim several hundred victims a day, and total fatilities now top 28,000, leaving the country poised to overtake Italy as the second-hardest hit after the United States.

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In a series of Sunday morning tweets, U.K. Prime Miniser Boris Johnson repeated five conditions for easing the lockdown as he prepared guidance on activities, including working outdoors or inside someone else’s home, a report said Saturday. He will also say whether employees need to wear protective equipment and how transport should be used. Two-thirds of Britons oppose lifting the lockdown now, a poll in the Observer showed.

“It’s definitely not going to be business as usual, but we do want to make sure that people understand where the route map lies,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Sky News on Sunday.

— With assistance by Karin Matussek, and Brian Swint

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