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Coronavirus around Europe: An inside look at how countries are trying to return to normal

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As countries around Europe take tentative but significant steps out of strict lockdowns, The Local’s journalists and contributors describe the situation where they are, how it feels and the problems that lie ahead.

‘It’s not exactly business as usual in Denmark…’, Emma Firth, Copenhagen, Denmark

Cycling along Copenhagens colourful streets, especially during the warm days of last weekend, almost felt like life pre-lockdown. People were sauntering along the pavements, looking at the small businesses that had reopened, others were enjoying the sun with a barbecue in the park.

But then out came the fines. 2,500 kroner (€335, almost £300) for those who let their guard down and gathered in groups of more than ten. Hotspots were declared across 38 locations in the country to stop people from sitting in those popular places.

Two weeks into Denmarks reopening after lockdown, there is a noticeable difference in social activity. But look a little closer and its not exactly business as usual.

There are more people wearing face masks, especially since they are now required by the professions that involve close customer contact.

There is no morning rush hour, despite all primary schools and day care institutions being open. Instead there are staggered drop offs and pick ups, many done by bike or foot as public transport is still very quiet. Some parks have become classrooms and many people are still working from home.

Those in schools, nurseries and kindergartens are getting used to their new routine of playing and learning in small groups, washing hands every two hours and spending much of the day outside.

A head teacher told me that teachers and pupils have settled well into the new way of life, creatively finding new ways to play and learn at a distance. But he said they were also doing video tours of the new school set up, to send to parents who were still very anxious about their children returning.

For the youngest children, many cant go back to their nurseries or kindergartens because new floor space requirements mean there isnt enough space for everyone. My childrens day care institution is still only accepting half the children back.

They are waiting to see if guidelines for the second phase of reopening, due to start on May 10th, can change this.

So far Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has called the first stage of reopening a success, as the spread of infection remains under control.

According to Denmark’s infectious diseases agency SSI, the infection rate of the coronavirus has increased from 0.6 to 0.9 – which is still under the crucial figure of 1 – preventing infections from escalating.

But its still very much a tightrope walk, and the second phase of reopening will be an even trickier balancing act.

‘Telling people to stay apart on Spanish beaches in the summer just won’t happen’, Graham Keeley, Barcelona, Spain

So, life after lockdown at last becomes a possibility.

After the Spanish government announced a complicated, four-phased de-escalation of the state of emergency, we were left contemplating how we will adjust to what prime minister Pedro Sánchez called the ‘new normality’.

Adults will be allowed out on their own from next week to practice sport. Until now we have only been permitted to leave the house if we were buying food, seeking medical help or heading to work in selected industries.

Restaurants will re-open, but only for takeaways. I will be allowed to get that badly-needed haircut.

If all goes to plan and there is not a new surge in infections, the country will progress to the next stage – confusingly called phase one – in which restaurants with terraces will be allowed to re-open up to 30% of their capacity and hotels can take bookings as long as they keep communal areas shut and observe social distancing rules.

I think many people are wondering who is going head out for a meal at these rather empty, soulless restaurants? Who would want to book into a hotel? Hoteliers and restaurateurs have condemned these plans as unrealistic.

Masks will be recommended but not compulsory. Why not compulsory? Already when I head out for our allotted one hour a day with the children, hardly anyone is wearing the masks. It seems a worrying sign.

The government has said Spain should return to normal by the end of June if all goes to plan. Although working at home will still be advised, businesses can slowly re-open.

However, schools will not re-open until September. So, who will look after millions of children if the parents are back at work? Does this mean extended families -or most often grandparents here in Spain – must be called upon to help? Surely, this raises the possibility of more social contact and a greater probability of a new spate of infections.

The beaches will be opened again by June if the plan goes well. But at present, the idea is this will only be possible if people observe social distancing and local police may have to stop crowds building up.

I may be a cynic but trying to tell people to keep away from each other on Spain’s crowded beaches at the height of summer seems a little like the apocryphal story of King Canute trying to stop the sea coming in; it just cannot happen.

Strangely, after nearly seven weeks in lockdown, some seem a little reluctant to leave the secure confines of their homes to risk their health in the outside world.

Despite the encouraging signs that the infection rate is falling and daily fatalities are descending, the epidemic is not over.

‘France has taken a first step, for sure, but this is a long road and may not be a straightforward one,’ Emma Pearson, Paris, France

France now has its detailed plan for ending the lockdown, although nothing actually changes until May 11th.

Although it’s pretty exciting to contemplate the heady freedom of walking to the supermarket without needing a permission form, it has quickly become apparent that there will still be lots of restrictions in place after May 11th.