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Joy and trepidation as Spaniards enjoy easing of restrictions

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Joy and trepidation as Spaniards enjoy easing of restrictions
Copyright  AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
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People have flocked to the streets and coastal paths of Spain as they were allowed out to enjoy some exercise for the first time in seven weeks.

One of the worst-hit countries in the world by COVID-19, Spain eased its lockdown restrictions slightly on Saturday morning, allowing people out to enjoy the spring sunshine.

It is a mixed picture at the moment in Europe. Residents in Italy, another country hit hard by coronavirus, are still stuck indoors - at least until May 4, when a slight easing of restrictions begins. And while German children enjoyed time in playgrounds on Saturday, there are growing concerns in Russia about the possibility of hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

Some relief at last for Spaniards

"It felt so good to stretch our legs and to actually see we were still in Barcelona and not in some apocalyptic world," said Rosanna West, who has been stuck inside in the capital of Catalonia for seven weeks.

But while it was a huge relief to get out and enjoy the outdoors for an hour, she also found the experience a little worrying.

"Runners were almost running shoulder to shoulder with you, it was like nobody was in quarantine at all. And they weren't running with masks," she said.

"We’ll see, but it felt a bit like standing too close to the fire."

AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
People enjoy the May sunshine on the Barcelona seafrontAP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

These sentiments were echoed by a resident of neighbouring town Sant Cugat del Vallès.

"I feel super excited to be able to go out and have a walk with ‘normality’, see people, and feel that everything is slowly going back to normal," said Clàudia Castrejón.

"On the other hand, if I go out and see that people are not following the safety precautions, like the different times allowed for different age groups, I'm going to be angry."

"I believe that it is impossible to avoid new infections when people are together because the virus is so contagious, but it is possible to avoid large numbers of new infections if people are responsible.

"People have to respond to this vote of confidence conscientiously, and follows the rules," she added.

Spain enforced a strict lockdown on March 14, only allowing adults to leave home for food shopping, medicine, or other essential goods, and to walk dogs close to home. This meant no outdoors exercise - and children were stuck inside for weeks on end.

AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos
Spaniards are finally able to take a walk in the park in PamplonaAP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos

From Saturday (April 2), the government has set up time slots for age groups and activities, and social-distancing measures are still in place.

Spain has detailed a complex rollback plan that will vary by province. Those with the fewest cases and with health care resources in place to handle a rebound of the virus will be the first to enjoy a further loosening of the measures.

With the situation improving in Spain, a huge field hospital the military helped set up at a Madrid convention center was closed on Friday, while a morgue in an ice rink was closed before that.

AP Photo/Paul White
Two elderly residents out in the capital MadridAP Photo/Paul White

After people enjoyed their morning outings, Spain's prime minister Pedro Sanchez announced that wearing masks on public transport will be an "obligation" from Monday, as an added measure to try to avoid another breakout of the virus.

Millions of masks, which until Saturday had only been "highly recommended", will be distributed throughout the country next week, Sanchez said.

Europe takes tentative steps out of lockdown

Around half of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide have been recorded in Europe, the continent hardest hit by the disease.

There have been more than 1.5 million cases confirmed across Europe, but with infections rates slowing, countries are starting to plan their post-lockdown ‘new normal’.

Germany, which has registered more than 164,000 cases but seen only about 6,700 deaths, has strict social distancing guidelines but never restricted people going outside for exercise. Smaller shops have already been opened and this is the first weekend in which playgrounds, museums and zoos have been permitted to open as well.

In Italy, measures will be relaxed from 4 May, with people being allowed to visit relatives in small numbers, and parks, factories, and smaller shops opening back up.