BERLIN — Germany may allow small shops to re-open starting April 19, offering a glimmer of hope to retailers across Europe after weeks of staring at the bills piling up while unsold merchandise sits in warehouses and dark stores.
Dire predictions for the economic cost of the coronavirus have added a sense of urgency to the task of preparing for the prospect of gradual openings, which continues to be clouded with uncertainty.
The International Monetary Fund is warning the world economy will slip into the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, down around 3 percent overall, with a 6.1 percent drop from advanced economies, which include Germany, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan.
Almost all European governments said they would be reassessing the success or failure of easing of lockdown measures every two or three weeks, a time period that allows the most realistic view on how infections were developing.
Across Europe, larger events — including trade fairs, music concerts and major sports events — aren’t likely to make a comeback any time soon. While European governments are easing lockdowns slowly, most are postponing major, crowd-drawing events until a vaccine is found.
Here is a roundup of how the easing of lockdown measures is shaping up in some of Europe’s major economies.
Retail stores up to 800 square meters, or 8,600 square feet, may re-open from April 19. Hairdressers may also re-open from May 4. But in both cases, the businesses will only be allowed to open under certain conditions and restrictions may be imposed on how many people are allowed in a store, and that each person has around 20 square meters, or around 215 square feet, of space. German state governments will also take part in decisions on what is allowed to open or not. Bavaria, for example, has been harder hit by the coronavirus and plans to move more slowly.
Social distancing measures are expected to be maintained. Face masks are recommended, but not compulsory. Cafes and restaurants remain closed and the German government will continue to reassess measures every two weeks.
Retail stores smaller than 400 square meters, or around 4,300 square feet, were allowed to re-open since April 14. Stores smaller than 20 square meters may only allow one customer at a time. From May 2, larger shopping centers could also re-open. While shopping, wearing a face mask is compulsory and stores are allowed to deny entry to anybody with symptoms of COVID-19.
Hairdressers may re-open from May 1. If the virus seems to be under control, then all shops can re-open from May 2.
Effective April 14, Italian stationery shops, bookstores and children’s clothing outlets were able to re-open. Other clothing stores remain shuttered although staff can enter to maintain security, inventory or for cleaning. More relief from lockdown measures is not expected until early May.
Certain conditions are expected to be respected in newly open stores, with masks required in public spaces where distance between other people cannot be maintained. Staff must also wear masks and other measures require providing hand sanitizer at the cashier stands, two separate exits and cleaning twice a day. There are regional differences as well, and in Lombardy, the original epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, bookshops and stationery shops will not be allowed to open until at least early May.
The French government has announced an easing of measures starting May 11, with schools and commerce expected to gradually come back while restaurants, cinemas, museums and cafes are scheduled to open at a later stage. All large gatherings, like festivals, have been cancelled until mid-summer. The government is currently working on terms of the lifting of the lockdown. French prime minister Eduard Philippe tweeted on Thursday that he was meeting with local authorities through videoconference to discuss the strategy for resuming activity in the country.
The U.K. government is expected to update the situation this afternoon; a further three weeks of lock down are expected.
The Greek government has said it will announce a roadmap for the easing of restrictions at some time before April 27, currently the official end of lockdown there. For now, restrictions remain in place.
Starting April 20, farmers’ markets, automobile showrooms and hardware stores will re-open. From April 27, stores under 200 square meters may open, unless they are located in a large shopping mall. Two weeks later, on May 11, retail outlets up to 1,000 square meters can open. Starting May 25, hairdressers, beauty and nail salons and shopping malls over 5,000 square meters will be allowed to open. Starting in early June, larger shops and all other shopping centers may re-open.
Face masks have been compulsory in the Czech republic since March 19.
From April 27, certain retail outlets including bookstores, florists, hairdressers and hardware stores will be allowed to reopen. Two further phases will follow, starting May 11 and June 8, with a wider range of activities expected to be allowed.
Since April 15, wearing a mask out in public has been compulsory. The country’s government plans to announce how it will ease the lockdown measures this afternoon. Most likely to be re-opened first are Poland’s parks and green areas, but authorities say the plans will also relate to non-essential retailers and hair and beauty salons.
In Spain, shops remain closed but workers in non-essential activities have begun to return to work. Lockdown measures are currently scheduled to last through April 27, but expected to be extended into May.