Authorities around the world are preparing to use curfews, roadblocks, travel bans, surveillance technology and threats of fines and arrests to deter people from travelling and congregating over Easter.
Many governments have already announced tighter restrictions and increased police enforcement in an effort to sustain lockdowns during a holiday period traditionally associated with trips and socialising.
Measures ranging from the draconian to the quixotic – a French mayor has banned sitting on benches – represent a collective warning to citizens who may be tempted to take a break from the restraint of recent weeks.
The goal is to keep people at home, but diverging approaches on whether to allow Easter egg hunts, barbecues, watersports and other activities underline the unprecedented dilemmas facing authorities.
The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began, ended its lockdown on Wednesday, a day after China reported no Covid-19 deaths for the first time since it started publishing figures. But for countries and regions where the disease is still spreading, Easter is a cue for further restrictions.
Police will use cameras and number-plate recognition technology to monitor traffic and patrol caravan parks and other holiday spots. “People will be given one opportunity to pack up, go back to your home state and go back home. Otherwise we will, unfortunately, have to issue tickets,” said Mick Fuller, the New South Wales police commissioner. “We will be using all of our powers and all of our technology to try and identify those people who shouldn’t be in NSW.”
Beach towns along Brazil’s south-eastern coast are sealing themselves off to prevent an influx of tourists. At least seven towns along the São Paulo coastline have reportedly banned outsiders from entering in the leadup to Easter Sunday, and anyone who disobeys the order faces having their cars towed or being expelled.
Police in Rio de Janeiro state are reportedly reinforcing roadblocks to stop tourists hitting the beaches east of Rio. In Búzios, a resort town 100 miles east of the capital, authorities have created a hotline for locals to report hotels or guesthouses offering Easter accommodation to tourists in defiance of the lockdown. Access to beaches is banned, even for locals.
About 160,000 police and gendarmes have been deployed across the country to make sure people stay home during what is normally the weekend of the Tour de France’s Grand Départ. In Paris, the city hall and police prefecture tightened the city’s lockdown in anticipation of sunny weather. Parisians were told they could not do “individual physical activity” on the streets between 10am and 7pm. There was confusion about whether this included walking, until authorities clarified they meant jogging and running.
Local mayors are taking matters into their own hands. People in Biarritz were told there was to be no strolling and “no sitting on local benches or seats unless waiting for public transport or for urgent health reasons for more than two minutes”. The announcement was rescinded after an outcry.
Authorities in many of the 16 states have said police will patrol autobahns and check whether vehicle number plates correspond to the local area. Exceptions will be made for parents who do not live with their children or couples who live apart.
Churches are closed for services, which are being livestreamed, but can be visited at other times for prayers and to light candles. Parks are open but not sports grounds, playgrounds or camping grounds. In theory, Easter egg hunts – a German tradition for centuries – can go ahead in public places as long as physical distancing rules are observed.
Sailors can take out their boats, and kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding are also allowed. Day trips are not explicitly forbidden but most tourist spots and nearby car parks will be closed. Barbecues on balconies and in gardens are allowed under certain conditions. Some fines and rules vary across regions. In Lower Saxony it is forbidden to buy cut flowers from an open-air market but you may visit a carwash. In Brandenburg the opposite is the case.
After weeks of relying on persuasion to keep people indoors, the government has given gardaí new powers to restrict people’s movements and gatherings over the next five days. Penalties for violations include fines of up to €2,500 and up to six months in prison. A person cannot leave home without a reasonable excuse such as legal, medical and family obligations, accessing essential services or exercising within 2km of home.
The government imposed a full curfew on Wednesday afternoon lasting until Thursday morning to cover the Jewish Passover holiday, traditionally a gathering of friends and family to eat, drink and commemorate the Israelites’ flight from Egyptian slavery. Several rabbis have made an exemption for the feast, ruling that people do not have to gather around a single table and can instead convene via video conferencing.
Reporting team: Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro, Kim Willsher in Paris, Kate Connolly in Berlin and Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem.