Sunday 5 April 2020 6:34 pm

Europe starts preparations for easing of coronavirus lockdown

Governments across Europe have started preparations for a gradual easing of the coronavirus lockdown as officials seek a safe strategy for returning their countries to normality.

France, Spain, Belgium and Finland are among countries that have set up expert committees to explore a staggered lifting of stay-at-home orders for some schools and businesses, the Financial Times reported.

Read more: Matt Hancock threatens complete outdoor exercise ban

The committees are tasked with bringing parts of the economy back into action without setting off a second wave of infections that could overwhelm health services.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez yesterday extended his country’s lockdown by 15 days until 26 April, but said some economic restrictions would be lifted after Easter.

“We are at the start of the decrease in the epidemic. We are stronger than we think but we have to endure,” he said, adding: “We are not going to extend the standstill of economic activity.”

Italy, which has also seen a decline in the number of coronavirus deaths, is expected to extend its current lockdown.

But health minister Roberto Speranza said the government was planning a “phase two” of the crisis when lockdown measures could be relaxed before a full return to normal conditions.

The UK is approaching two weeks since lockdown measures were brought in by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

But health secretary Matt Hancock today warned the rules could be tightened amid concerns some people were ignoring the guidance by sunbathing and picnicking in parks.

Read more: Playstations and yoga mats: Online shopping surges amid UK lockdown

Current rules state that Brits are allowed outside for daily exercise, but not for leisure activities or gatherings.

Hancock told the BBC today that the government was prepared to ban exercise in all forms — as some other European countries have done — if people continued to flout the rules.