As Covid-19 pandemic throws millions out of work and devastates economies across Europe, some governments struggle with the delicate balance between keeping people safe from a highly contagious virus and making sure they can still make a living.

A sign in Hyde Park in London advises social distancing, as the country is in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. April 13, 2020.
A sign in Hyde Park in London advises social distancing, as the country is in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. April 13, 2020. (AP)

Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the global coronavirus epidemic, on Monday started to ease tough lockdown restrictions that have kept people confined to their homes for more than a month and put a brake on economic activity.

Spain's cumulative death toll from the coronavirus rose to 17,489 on Monday, up 517 from 16,972 on Sunday, the health ministry said. Confirmed cases totalled 169,496, up from 166,019 the previous day.

However, this was the smallest proportional daily increase in the number of deaths and new infections.

With signs indicating the situation was taking a tentative turn for the better, some businesses, including construction and manufacturing, were allowed to reopen.

But most of the population were still confined to their homes, and shops, bars and public spaces will remain closed until at least April 26.

People at main transport hubs were handed face masks by police as they went to work on Monday morning.

"The health of workers must be guaranteed. If this is minimally affected, activity cannot restart," Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told Cadena Ser radio station.

Lockdown restrictions have helped slow a spiralling death rate that reached its peak in early April, but they have tested the resolve of people cooped up inside their homes.

"You finally convince yourself that we are at home for a good cause," said Benito Guerrero, 28-year-old communication consultant still locked at home in Madrid.

"I wouldn't want to go back to work again until it is strictly necessary since that would put my health and others at risk."

Germany

Senior politicians in Germany have begun debating a potential easing of restrictions imposed over the coronavirus epidemic ahead of a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

On Monday, Merkel and premiers of Germany's 16 states expect to get recommendations from the German National Academy of Sciences that the chancellor has said will weigh heavily in considerations for a possible loosening in movement and social distancing rules in place since around mid-March.

The discussion takes place as the number of new infections and deaths declines in Germany, which has weathered the pandemic better than European neighbours Italy, Spain and France.

But Germany's export-driven economy –– Europe's largest –– has been hit hard and is estimated to contract 9.8% in the second quarter, the biggest decline since records began in 1970 and more than double the decline seen during the global financial crisis in 2009.

Merkel will discuss the recommendations of the science academy with her cabinet on Tuesday. On Wednesday, she will hold a video conference with the state governors to discuss a possible path out of the lockdown and how to manage the recession it is expected to cause.

The United Kingdom

Unlike the other European countries, the United Kingdom is still struggling with an increasing number of deaths and cases.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to expand across the globe and the death toll steadily rises, the UK might become the worst-hit country in Europe, according to some experts.

The country has been in a lockdown for the past three weeks with police enforcement and social distancing measures in place to slow the spread of the virus.

Despite all this, the daily death toll has been near 1,000 for the past few days.

At least one expert thinks the country will lose many people and the total number of deaths by the end of the outbreak will be worse than two hard-hit countries, Italy and Spain.

Italy

Italian authorities ordered an even stronger crackdown on anyone trying to escape the lockdown over the Easter holidays, moving to second homes or for family reunions.

Checks have been intensified, with police checkpoints on the main roads and highways and drones used to monitor people’s movements.

On the Saturday before Easter, over 280,000 people were checked and more than 12,500 fined in the largely Catholic nation, up 20 percent from Friday, according to the latest Interior Ministry data.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expressed his gratitude in a Facebook post.

“The sacrifices that each of us makes on this important Sunday are a gesture of authentic attachment to what really matters,” Conte said. “Together we will make it.”

The government is already planning how to handle the so-called “phase 2,” which will follow the emergency and will assist Italian citizens and businesses in a recovery.

Greece

Authorities in Greece say they are concerned about indications of a build-up of migrants and refugees on the Turkish coast near Greek islands despite movement restrictions in effect in both countries aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19.

“We have seen signs of activity on the shores facing (the islands),” Stelios Petsas, the Greek government spokesman, said. “We will ... continue to do whatever it takes to defend our sovereign rights and guard the borders of Greece and Europe.”

The Greek islands last year were the European Union’s busiest entry point for illegal migration, according to the border protection agency Frontex.

In early March, daily clashes broke out at the Greek-Turkish land border after the Turkish government said it would no longer stop migrants and refugees heading to Europe.

Greek Defence Ministry officials say the military has remained on alert at the land and sea borders with Turkey since that crisis.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies