Madrid, Barcelona to ease lockdown, UK debates reopening schools

Madrid Desk, May 22 (efe-epa).- The region of Madrid and Barcelona’s metropolitan area have progressed onto the first step of the Spanish government’s four stage phasing out of the coronavirus lockdown two weeks behind much of the rest of the country.

Spain’s two most populous cities have been hardest hit by the deadly Covid-19 outbreak, accounting for over half of the roughly 233,000 positive cases detected in Spain since the virus took hold.

Alongside a patchwork of provinces of Castile and Leon, they are the last regions to meet the criteria to enter phase one of the government’s so-called transition to a new normality. Residents of the three areas will from Monday be allowed to meet with friends and family for the first time since 14 March and restaurants and cafes will be able to partially open their outside seating.

Around 22 million people, or 47 percent of the population, will progress to phase two of the de-escalation process in regions such as Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Country, La Rioja, the Canary Islands, the Balearics and rural areas of Catalonia, among others.

Spain’s daily death toll on Friday stood at 56, making it the sixth consecutive day that the figure remained under 100 but the toll does not include Catalonia. The overall deaths rose to 28,628, 668 more than Thursday.

The 632 fatalities correspond to an accumulated delay in information from Catalonia, according to Fernando Simon, who heads the country’s public health emergency body.

The northeastern region registered 150 of the country’s 446 new infections Friday.

Simon added: “If we keep to the measures of prevention and we take care with the resumption of activities, we could be very close to having the virus at almost undetectable levels.”

Authorities in the United Kingdom, Europe’s deadliest Covid-19 hotspot, said another 351 fatalities from the disease had been reported in the last 24 hours.

There had also been 3,287 new infections, an uptick from Thursday’s 2,615.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is so far sticking by his plan to reopen schools in England from 1 June despite some scientific groups advising against it.

The scientific committee advising the government (Sage) said tests on the susceptibility of children to contract and spread coronavirus were inconclusive.

The so-called independent Sage group, which is chaired by former government scientific advisor Sir David King, suggested children go back to the classroom in September.

“It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike,” the committee said.

People arriving in the United Kingdom could face a fine of 1,000 pounds ($1,218) if they do not comply with a two week self-quarantine period, a law that is to come into force on 8 June, Priti Patel, the home secretary, said.

“As the world begins to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must look to the future and protect the British public by reducing the risk of cases crossing our border,” she told the daily briefing.

Immigration officers will also be able to refuse entry to non-UK citizens.

The second round of French municipal elections are to go ahead 28 June after they were postponed by the coronavirus outbreak.

The first round was controversially held on 15 March amid a record low turnout over infection fears.

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said the date could be subject to change if the health situation does not allow for it.

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