Coronavirus: Thousands protest lockdown across Europe as countries open borders

Hard-hit Italy said it would allow international travel from June 3

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Thousands of people across Europe took to the streets to protest against coronavirus lockdown measures over the weekend, as the countries on the continent eased their border restrictions.

For the second week in a row, fury over Germany’s lockdown measures simmered, with conspiracy theorists, extremists and anti-vaxers joining others decrying tough social isolation measures.

Although the country's death toll is lower than most other European nations, there has been increasing frustration at Chancellor Angela Merkel's cautiousness when easing the lockdown over concerns of a second wave of infections.

The protests have expanded to several major cities including Munich, Berlin and Stuttgart. In Stuttgart, 5,000 people are expected to participate – the maximum number allowed for the state.

Germany’s economy – the largest on the continent – tumbled into a recession on Saturday after reporting a 2.2 per cent decline in the first three months of the year, as the fallout from coronavirus pandemic continued to roil markets.

Meanwhile, the Bundesliga, the top flight German football league, held its first match since lockdown on Saturday. Borussia Dortmund and Schalke played each other behind closed doors to stop transmission of the coronavirus.

On Friday, Germany’s Interior Ministry said it was taking measures to loosen restrictions for travellers from the European Union, the 22-state Schengen zone and Britain as it was “confident” the country had been “successful in containing the pandemic”.

Previously, those entering or leaving the Germany had to enter a 14-day self-isolation period — but now this will only apply to travellers from places with high infection rates.

In March, the European Union banned foreign nationals from entering the Schengen zone, apart from medical workers and those on essential travel. However on Wednesday, the bloc outlined plans for a phased restart of summer travel, urging member states to reopen the zone's internal borders. It recommended external borders remain shut for most travel until at least the middle of June.

Other countries in Europe also eased restrictions over the weekend. Italy moved on Saturday to allow international tourist travel from June 3, following draconian lockdown measures since early March that crippled an economy heavily reliant on tourism.

Since the pandemic began, more than 31,500 people have died in Italy, making it the second hardest hit country in Europe.

In a statement, Italy's government did not explicitly state which foreign nationals would be allowed to enter, but said the measures respected the "legal order of the European Union", suggesting it would include countries in the EU and Schengen zone, as well as Britain.

Italy plans to allow international travel again from June 3. Reuters
Italy plans to allow international travel again from June 3. Reuters

Italy never formally closed its borders and has allowed people to travel for work or health reasons, but it banned movement for tourism and imposed a two-week quarantine on arrivals. As in Germany, the quarantine will no longer be mandatory.

A further easing of Italy's lockdown will take place on Monday, with cafes, hairdressers and restaurants being allowed to reopen if social distancing measures are in place.

In the financial capital Milan, dozens of restaurant workers protested outside the city’s main train station over the lack of clarity in the rules around reopening of businesses.

One demonstrator held a sign saying: "I won't open today to close tomorrow."

The city plans to open 3,400 restaurants on Monday along with 4,800 bars, 2,900 hairdressers, 2,200 clothing stores and 700 shoe shops.

Other countries were still grappling to contain the outbreak. Britain’s health ministry confirmed on Saturday that 468 people died in the country from Covid-19 in the last 24 hours.

The UK remains the country in Europe with the highest number of fatalities from the coronavirus – 35,466 people have now died in all settings since the start of the pandemic. Some 240,161 people have tested positive for the virus.

Protests against the lockdown measures erupted on Saturday, with police dispersing crowds of demonstrators in Hyde Park in central London.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs on Friday that he would take "grandmother's footsteps" towards lifting the lockdown measures.

The virus’s reproduction rate – or ‘R’ number – has crept up in Britain from between 0.5 and 0.9 earlier this week to between 0.7 and 1. If the figure is 1 or above, the average person will infect at least one other person with the virus.

Although the number of cases is falling in the UK, they are declining slowly.