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Analysis: The success of COVID-19 restrictions

Millions across Europe awoke to change this morning, with lockdowns eased, employees returning to their workplaces and some schools reopened. But it is far from life as normal.

In Spain, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries, the government is allowing some factory workers and those in construction to go back to work, but encouraging them to walk or cycle to get there, if possible.

Italy is reopening some stores, such as bookshops, stationers and those selling children’s clothing. Other countries, like Austria and the Czech Republic, have allowed non-essential shops to start selling again. And in Denmark, primary school children are back in the classrooms.

But that’s not the picture everywhere. Strict lockdowns or confinement measures remain in place in France, the UK, Ireland, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere.

Put simply, different countries are at different stages in the spread and scope of infections.

Some have, frankly, been more successful than others in managing the coronavirus crisis. Tomorrow, Germany and Belgium are expected to announce their exit strategies. While in Sweden, the more low-key approach to confinement continues. Many were out enjoying the Scandinavian sun this Easter weekend.

Though even where lockdowns have been eased, bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues remain closed, large scale events are not happening anytime soon and social distancing rules remain in place.

Plus, it looks increasingly likely that most of us will have to start wearing masks when we go outdoors: Austria is now insisting on it and it looks like Germany could follow suit soon.

And where is the European Union in all of this, I hear you ask?

Well, you’ll be pleased to know the European Commission is to issue advice to countries tomorrow. The guidelines will ask for a sustained fall in the rate of new infections before restrictions are lifted – and only then if individual health systems can cope with a potential increase in infections. Also, countries should judge their ability to test and trace infected individuals.

All very sound advice.

But this advice will be issued a day – if not more – after some countries have already started easing restrictions and on the same day others – including here in Belgium – will announce their exit plans, seemingly with little consideration given to what the EU institutions think.

Throughout this crisis, most countries have acted with scant regard for the European Union. From countries hoarding medical supplies to internal borders being closed, the EU has constantly found itself on the back foot.

Even now, as those same countries try to return to some sense of normality, the “advice” out of Brussels appears to be just that: advice, take it or leave it.

Darren McCaffrey is Euronews’ political editor.

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