Life After Lockdown: How Denmark and Austria Will Ease Coronavirus Restrictions

What does life look like after the coronavirus lockdown? Austria and Denmark are the first European countries to plan gradual reopenings. Our reporters in Copenhagen and Vienna, Morten Buttler and Matthias Wabl, explain how it will work.

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Italy is beginning to look at easing its lockdown after Denmark and Austria became the first two European countries to loosen restrictions as governments seek to gradually revive economies crippled by the containment measures without risking a second wave of infection.

Italy, the original epicenter of the outbreak on the continent, has begun to plan for emerging from the lockdown as new deaths and cases flatten out. Selected firms could open in mid-April, according to an official familiar with the discussions. Norway will also move to ease restrictions, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

Parts of Italy’s agribusiness and health sectors, and mechanical-equipment companies linked to these industries, could be allowed to restart operations, but protection for workers will be critical for each company involved, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential talks.

After weeks of measures designed to limit contact between people, European governments are seeing growing evidence that shutting down much of modern life is containing the disease. But the scale of the outbreak in the region means officials need to weigh any attempts to restart parts of the economy against the risk of reigniting the spread.

The difficulty of containing the contagion was underscored by Spain’s latest figures. Despite weeks of severe restrictions on public life, Europe’s hardest-hit country reported an increase in its daily coronavirus death toll and a bigger rise in the number of confirmed cases.

There were 5,478 new infections in the 24 hours through Tuesday, the highest since Sunday and taking the total to 140,510, according to Health Ministry data. The death toll rose by 743 to 13,798, a larger gain than Monday’s 637. Still, the number of new fatalities was lower than every day last week.

Europe has been hit hard by the pandemic that started in China and spread across the world. Italy, Spain, Germany and France trail only the U.S. in the number of infections, and the region has suffered more than 60% of worldwide deaths.

Denmark will press ahead with a “cautious reopening” starting with daycare and primary schools on April 15 if the virus numbers remain stable, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Monday evening. The government will also start talks with business leaders on gradually moving employees back into offices, but some restrictions will remain in place for months to come.

“We’ve managed to avoid the misfortune that has befallen a number of other countries” because “we acted early,” Frederiksen said.

Denmark and Austria were among the first countries in Europe to shut down public life in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz earlier Monday announced the first steps to restart his country’s economy, with small shops, hardware and gardening stores allowed to reopen after Easter, to be followed by the opening of all retailers from May 1.

The easing of restrictions came as the tally of sick and dead showed further signs of abating across the continent. In Germany, which has the third-largest outbreak in Europe, the number of daily recoveries exceeded new cases for the first time on Tuesday.

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In This Story: Covid-19

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