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COVID-19

How is each European country emerging from coronavirus lockdown?

Tentatively, parts of Europe are emerging from lockdown, with France and Belgium joining the list of countries easing measures on Monday, amid fears of a second coronavirus wave.

How is each European country emerging from coronavirus lockdown?
European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, wearing a protective face mask to lessen the spread of novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Photo: JOHN THYS / AFP

Here is an overview:

France

Hair salons, clothes shops, florists and bookshops will open again Monday. Bars, restaurants, theatres and cinemas remain closed.

Primary schools will take small numbers of pupils, depending on space. Masks will be obligatory on public transport.

Everyone will be able to move outside without having to present a form on demand but people will only be able to go 100 kilometres (60 miles) from their place of residence.

The easing has brought mixed reactions. “I've been scared to death” about the reopening, said one bookshop manager from Lyon.

“It's a big responsibility to have to protect my staff and my customers.”

Belgium

Most businesses will open Monday, with social distancing. Masks are recommended.

Cafes, restaurants and bars remain closed. In central Brussels there will be speed limits on cars and priority will be given to cyclists and pedestrians.

Schools remain closed until May 18.

The Netherlands

Primary schools will partially reopen Monday. Driving schools, hair salons, physiotherapists and libraries also return, with social distancing measures.

Switzerland

Primary and middle schools will reopen Monday, with classes often reduced in size.

Restaurants, museums and bookshops will also open, with conditions. Meetings of more than five people remain banned.

Spain

Half of Spain's some 47 million people will be able to meet with family or friends in gatherings of up to 10 as of Monday.

Outdoor spaces at bars and restaurants can reopen with limited capacity. Hardest-hit Madrid and Barcelona are excluded from the easing, though football clubs FC Barcelona resumed training on Friday and Real Madrid will follow Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has called on Spaniards to show “the greatest precaution and prudence” because “the virus has not gone away, it is still there”.

Only movements within provinces are authorised and cinemas and theatres remain closed. Schools will not start up again until September.

Britain

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address the nation on Sunday evening to set out a “roadmap” for relaxing social distancing rules.

“We have to be realistic that there isn't going to be any dramatic overnight change,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.

Italy 

While schools remain closed until September, factories, building sites and offices reopened on May 4. Social distancing rules are in place in parks.

Wearing masks is mandatory on public transport. All retail businesses will reopen on May 18, as will museums, cultural sites, churches and libraries.

Bars and restaurants will reopen from June 1, along with hair and beauty salons. The first phase of lifting lockdown has also sparked fresh concerns.

In Milan, photographs published in newspapers of people sitting along canals enjoying aperitifs in the sunshine, many not wearing masks or respecting social distancing rules, prompted the city's Mayor Giuseppe Sala to slam the behaviour as “shameful”.

Virologist Massimo Galli also warned the city was a virus time “bomb” at risk of erupting with residents now free to move around.

Germany 

Eating at the restaurant is now possible in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where the country's first cafes and restaurants reopened on Saturday.

Under Germany's federal system, each of the 16 states makes its own decisions on how to emerge from lockdown and cafes and restaurants will reopen in a number of other states in the coming days and weeks. Most shops are already open and children are slowly returning to classrooms.

Bundesliga football matches are also set to resume. Heeding signs of a second wave, German authorities have agreed to reimpose restrictions locally if an area has more than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents over a week.

Austria

Hairdressers, tennis courts and golf courses reopened in the first weekend in May.

Travel restrictions have been lifted and gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed, with social distancing. Masks are compulsory in public transport and shops.

Final-year school students returned to class on May 4 ahead of a gradual return for others. 

Poland

Hotels can reopen on Monday but foreign tourists must quarantine for two weeks on arrival.

 

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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