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Spaniards Flock Outside With Europe’s Virus Outbreak Easing

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Spaniards Flock Outside With Europe’s Virus Outbreak Easing

  • Outdoor exercise allowed after almost two months of lockdown
  • Governments across Europe are starting to relax lockdown rules
People exercise along the Segovia Bridge in Madrid on May 2.

People exercise along the Segovia Bridge in Madrid on May 2.

Photographer: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images

People exercise along the Segovia Bridge in Madrid on May 2.

Photographer: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images

Spain’s runners, walkers and cyclists took to the streets for the first time in almost two months as the nation began to ease one of Europe’s tightest lockdowns, amid signs that the worst of the region’s coronavirus outbreak may be over.

Madrid filled with joggers on Saturday as Spaniards were allowed out of their homes to exercise for the first time in seven weeks. Cyclists and skateboarders headed to parks, many in pairs, defying rules. Police seemed relaxed, only ordering runners off the roads passing through parks.

The “coronavirus is being controlled in Spain,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised speech Saturday, describing the relaxing in restrictions as “small reliefs” while urging caution in the fight against the virus.

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Neighbors hang out bunting in preparation for a street party in Madrid on May 2.

Photographer: Charlie Devereux/Bloomberg

While Spain has been among Europe’s worst virus hot spots, new cases and fatalities are easing, a trend echoed elsewhere in Europe. Germany reported the fewest deaths in five days and the slowest increase in new cases in four. France, which plans to reopen shops starting May 11, recorded 166 new deaths linked to Covid-19, the fewest since March 22.

Against that backdrop, governments across the region from Germany to Greece are beginning to relax the lockdowns which have paralyzed economies. In the fashionable Malasaña neighborhood of Madrid, some families were taking advantage of the easing of restrictions to stroll through sun-bathed streets.

In one street, neighbors were organizing a party to celebrate May 2, a local holiday that normally takes place in a nearby square. Bunting was strung across the street and balcony concerts were starting at 11 p.m., one local said over the blare of music.

Balcony Chats

Overall, it was still quieter than usual and most people remained indoors, leaning out of their balconies to chat with neighbors across the street. Spain’s government set time slots in which age groups are allowed onto the street for different activities, with exercise allowed in the early part of the morning.

The next stage of the government’s plan to phase out the lockdown will start May 4, when restaurants, stores, bars and hotels are allowed to open under certain strict rules in four islands. Spain’s economy will contract more than 9% this year, Sanchez said, underscoring the importance of reopening businesses.

Output in the 19-country euro area shrank 3.8% in the first quarter, reflecting shutdowns to contain the virus that have pushed businesses close to collapse, sent unemployment surging and forced governments to unleash billions of euros in emergency stimulus.

U.K. Guidance

The U.K. government will give companies guidance within days on returning to work safely once curbs ease. Boris Johnson’s administration is reviewing whether it could relax the two-meter social distancing rule, which could allow more businesses and schools to reopen, The Daily Telegraph reported today. Ministers have asked scientific advisers whether people need to stay so far apart, the paper said.

The Sun newspaper reported the U.K. could begin relaxing restrictions on May 26.

The U.K. reported an another 621 deaths from the coronavirus to bring total fatalities to 28,131, leaving the country close to Italy as the second-hardest hit country by that measure after the U.S. The government has been ramping up testing as it prepares to begin easing lockdown measures.

A total of 105,937 tests were carried out on May 1, bringing total tests to 1.13 million.

Read more: Stir-Crazy Italians Wonder Whom They’ll Be Allowed to Visit

Italy’s new coronavirus cases remained stable while deaths rose by the most since April 21, as the country prepares to start easing a two-month lockdown on Monday. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is open to further easing the nation’s lockdown from mid-May if there is no spike in new virus cases following next week’s initial relaxation.

Figures released Saturday showed there were 1,900 new cases in Italy, compared with 1,965 a day earlier. There were 474 deaths from the virus, compared with 269 on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 28,710.

Germany is allowing playgrounds, zoos, museums and churches to reopen, while maintaining travel restrictions and most other curbs on public life. Chancellor Angela Merkel said a broader easing of the country’s lockdown will be evaluated on Wednesday.

— With assistance by Karin Matussek, and Ania Nussbaum

(Updates with French data in fourth paragraph.)