France and other parts of Europe reopen “non-essential” stores on Saturday in time for the holiday season after progress in containing the coronavirus pandemic.
Most countries hope to ease their virus rules for Christmas and New Year, allowing families a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until a clutch of promising new vaccines kick in.
Stores will lift their shutters in France on Saturday, though bars and restaurants will remain shut until early next year.
Poland’s shopping centres are also set to reopen, while Belgium will allow shops to reopen from December 1 but keep the current semi-lockdown in place possibly until mid-January.
The move mirrors similar easing in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The Italian government partially lifted restrictions in Lombardy and Piedmont in the north, and Calabria in the south from Sunday, changing their alert levels from red to orange.
And Ireland has also announced a staggered easing of restrictions to allow some businesses to reopen and for families to gather ahead of Christmas.
Speaking in a televised address, Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the upcoming festive period “cannot and will not be the kind of Christmas we are used to” but added the easing of restrictions would offer “some respite from the hardships of 2020 and in particular, the last six weeks”.
Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged more than one million cases on Friday, while Russia asked India to help mass produce its controversial Sputnik vaccine.
Although the virus spread is slowing thanks to weeks of tough restrictions, Europe remains at the heart of the pandemic, recording more cases than the United States in the past week.
Until recently, Germany’s relative success in containing the virus had offered some sense of hope, with authorities putting in place some precautions that still allowed life to carry on almost as normal.
However, its measured approach has failed during the second wave, endangering the health of Europe’s biggest economy and weighing on the mood as the northern hemisphere heads into the winter holidays.
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the overall total beyond the one-million mark.
More worryingly, the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.
Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and 61 million infections have been officially recorded, although the real numbers are unknown since testing and reporting methods vary greatly.
With the virus on the march and the rollout of the first vaccines not expected until next month, much of the world faces a gloomy winter under more lockdowns, with an accompanying increase in economic anxiety and mental strain.
Lockdown fatigue is spreading even as governments unfurl new measures to save healthcare systems from collapse.
One hairdresser in northern England has become a cause celebre among social media libertarians after stacking up fines totalling £17,000 ($23,000), invoking the Magna Carta of 1215.
Among others invoking Magna Carta to stay open have been a tattoo parlour in Bristol, western England, and a children’s soft-play centre in Liverpool, in the northwest.
Law enforcers have taken a dim view, meting out fines and reminding all businesses that legislation of this year, not 800 years ago, is relevant and binding.
Nations are now trying to gauge how people, exhausted by one of the most traumatic years in generations, can enjoy a small holiday break without making things worse.
Playing it safe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for all EU resorts to be closed until January 10, making Switzerland — which is outside the bloc and is staying open — the go-to destination for ski fans.
The French government has said winter sport resorts are free to open for the Christmas holiday season but ski lifts will have to remain shut, prompting bafflement from players in the sector.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)