( Update 1: Adds latest figures)
Madrid/Rome, May 18 (efe-epa).- Around 32 million people in Spain, roughly 70 percent of the country’s population, awoke to eased coronavirus lockdown restrictions on Monday while beaches, bars and beauty salons reopened in Italy as two of Europe’s worst-affected nations attempt to get their economies back on their feet.
The majority of Spain has progressed into phase one of the government’s so-called “transition to a new normality”, although Madrid, Barcelona — the two worst-affected regions — and a patchwork of provinces in Castile and Leon remain in the preliminary phase zero.
The government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez slightly eased the rules of phase zero, which remains in effect for a third of the population, allowing businesses smaller than 400 meters squared to offer services without customers requiring a reservation.
Museums can also partially reopen at limited capacity.
The slight easing of restrictions comes after the entire nation spent almost two months in one of the most draconian lockdowns in the world, as people were only allowed to leave their houses for essentials such as food and medicine.
Periods of outdoors exercise have only been permitted since the beginning of May and must be carried out in accordance with strict protocol.
Those living in areas that have moved to phase one of the easing of the lockdown, in force since 14 March, can meet with friends and family in groups of up to 10 and can dine and have drinks in outdoor restaurant spaces, which can open at one third their normal capacity.
A number of small Spanish islands, with a total population of 45,000, have progressed to phase two of the four-stage de-escalation process.
José Luis Ábalos, the transport minister, on Monday said he was confident that tourism in Spain, one of the pillars of the country’s economy, could restart at the end of June, by which time the government hopes to have lifted all travel restrictions in the nation.
He said any move to kick start the industry would depend on the success of the de-escalation plan. Last year Spain was the second-most visited country in the world with a total of 83.7 million tourists choosing it as a destination. Almost 2.5 million jobs revolved around the industry.
Measures are being eased after Spain’s daily death toll dipped below 100 — to 87 — on Sunday for the first time in two months.
On Monday, health authorities said just 59 people had died in the last 24 hours.
There have been over 27,650 deaths in Spain since the outbreak began, and more than 230,000 confirmed cases, of which almost 150,000 have recovered.
The asymmetric nature of the de-escalation process in Spain has sparked tensions between the central and regional governments.
The Socialist Party-led coalition government is also likely to come up against tough opposition to its bid to extend the state of alarm, which grants it powers to restrict the movement of people, by another month for what the PM said would be the final time.
The government in Italy, where the virus first took hold in Europe, agreed over the weekend that the majority of businesses in the country could reopen this week and that decision-making on the pace of the de-escalation would be handed to regional leaders.
It meant that 70 percent of bars, restaurants and hair salons opened their doors again after two months of stagnation, as the government sought to quell what was the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in Europe.
According to Italian business confederation Confcommercio, 30 percent of businesses, mainly clothing, footwear and furniture shops, decided to remain closed.
Some businesses decided against opening up in case business was too slow, while others did not have the necessary health and safety requirements in place.