Italian businesses wonder how they will survive because restrictions are relaxed but not completely lifted. Students return to schools far from social in Germany, where barber shops that have just reopened face enormous demands to correct mistakes in cutting hair for weeks. Belgium can once again use public transportation, but facepiece is mandatory, while small shops are reopened in Greece and Portugal.
“Phase 2” of Italy’s plan to ease restrictions starts on Monday, with more than 4 million people expected to return to work, some public transportation services restored, and many businesses will be reopened, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Facebook. “Unlike before, the future of the country will be in our hands.”
Even though industries such as textiles and manufacturing have begun to return, many non-essential stores remain closed. While bars and restaurants are allowed to reopen from Monday, they can only offer takeaway.
Franco, owner of the Il Bello Cafe bar in Rome, said easing partial restrictions would not be enough to keep many companies afloat.
“I just reopened today, but it’s not even worth it. There is so little work for us, few people come, but also the bar is not just about buying coffee, or cappuccino, it’s about conversation. It’s social,” Franco, who refused to give his last name, told CNN. “The government is doing what they have to do for the pandemic, but our bar and work is something else – not in accordance with these steps.”
He said that he still paid rent, electricity and gas but only produced 30% of what he did before the lockdown. “My staff are worried but I am too. I might have to close and I have been here 14 years,” he said. “There will be so many layoffs in this line of business.”
The Italian government says that to reopen shops, bars and restaurants must completely slow down the reproduction rate of the corona virus to 0.5, which means that every infected Italian person infects less than one other person (“R0 value” of 1, for example, means that every infected person infects one other person). To reopen theaters, conventions and stadiums, Italy wants the numbers to be as close as possible to 0. Currently the number is around 0.6-0.7 nationally.
Restaurant, bar and shop owners throughout Italy last week “handed over their keys” to the local mayor in protest at the slow reopening, and Conte apologized on Friday for the late payment of financial assistance for businesses affected by the pandemic.
A joint letter from 13 of 20 Italian regions last Wednesday called on the government “to guarantee the possibility of reopening activities for all those who respect the steps that have been provided” by the lockout decision. “It’s clear that health is the first essential goal, but it can’t be the only one,” the letter added.
There is frustration in other countries too. The German hairdresser opens Monday after the closing weeks, but customers cannot walk – they now need to make an appointment and in Berlin have to fill out a questionnaire.
One salon in Hamburg said it was “controlled” by customers, while Udo Walz, a hairdresser of stars in Berlin, told CNN that his salon was up for the next three weeks.
“I was at the store this morning, everyone was wearing a mask, customers, hairdressers, it was kind of funny,” Walz said. “Most customers have 2 centimeters of visible roots. Some of them try to cut their own hair or cover up the color, but that is usually wrong, even though I gave a tip on the phone.”
The salon must obey the rules of social distance, so Walz said every other seat must remain empty, which works for him because he has a large salon. Walz did not have to lay off 86 employees, he admitted they had lost money. “They don’t get tips and that’s important because we have good customers. Their salaries are a little reduced, but we have a great team.”
Other European countries are gradually loosening restrictions. Spain allows outsiders to practice solo this weekend for the first time in seven weeks. Portugal opens a small shop on Monday, and people in Belgium can travel by public transportation but must wear a mask, AFP reported.
Traffic increased on Greek roads Monday when small shops including hair salons, flower shops and bookstores reopened and lines formed outside retailers of electrical equipment, Reuters reported. Greece, which has been praised for its coronavirus response, plans to welcome more tourists this summer.
Meanwhile, Britain has not relaxed restrictions but is also making plans to return to work. A draft government plan is considering a staggering start, maximizing work from home and hygiene measures such as distance of two meters and physical screens, according to British media reports.
UK transport minister Grant Shapps said more public transport would soon be running, although he suggested people would be encouraged to walk or get to work when they returned. The suggestion was greeted with concern by three of Britain’s main rail unions, who said in a letter to the Prime Minister on Monday that now was not the time to run more trains because there was no agreement on how to protect workers and passengers.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Downing Street briefing on Sunday that the “worst thing to do” was to relax prematurely and risk a surge in the two diseases. He said Britain must proceed cautiously, raising serious questions about what its long-term financial impact would be.
When Europe reopens, the big question is how this once-alive continent will look when we move into a different future than we all hoped. It must have changed forever.
Emma Reynolds writes from London, Valentina Di Donato reports from Rome, and Stephanie Halasz reports from London. Sharon Braithwaite and Lindsay Isaac contributed reporting.