BRUSSELS — The European Commission is urging European Union states to coordinate as they begin to ease lockdown measures, warning that failure to do so could result in new spikes of the coronavirus epidemic.
Several EU states have announced plans or have already begun to relax restrictions imposed to contain the outbreak, as pressure grows to revive their battered economies.
The EU executive arm, which has no power to dictate health measures to the 27 EU states, has repeatedly called for a common approach as the bloc’s members acted independently of each other in tackling the virus and are now proceeding in the same way in their exit strategies from lockdowns.
“It is time to develop a well-coordinated EU exit strategy,” the Commission said in a draft set of recommendations, which it is expected to adopt this week.
“The exit strategy should be coordinated between the Member States, to avoid negative spillover effects.”
Confinement measures must be eased only after the spread of the disease had significantly decreased for a sustained period of time, and when hospital capacity is sufficient to handle a likely new spikes of infections, according to the Commission’s recommendations.
But governments are under increasing pressure to ease lockdowns as the disastrous impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy has become clear. The Commission has estimated output in the euro zone could shrink by 10% this year.
In Italy, the first EU state to be heavily hit by the virus, dozens of businesses were allowed to resume activity on Tuesday, including bookshops, stationers and shops selling children’s clothes, although harsh confinement measures remain in place.
Spain, which maintains one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, allowed some sectors, including construction and manufacturing, to go back to work on Monday, and Poland announced on Tuesday it would ease restrictions on shops starting April 19.
Other countries went further, with Denmark due to reopen schools on April 15 while Austria allowed large shops to restart activities on Tuesday and plans to reopen shopping centers from May 1.
The fear of spillover effects may yet force governments to work together. China, where the pandemic first emerged in December, has for days announced no new local cases of COVID-19 but is still reporting new infections from people coming from abroad.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio and Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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