Europeans restart 'normal' life in unfamiliar way

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Wearing masks, keeping distance, working and schooling on staggered times, Europeans are restarting their "normal" life -- but in an unfamiliar way after a nearly two-month lockdown to fight the coronavirus.

Mixed feeling about easing 

Italy, one of the hardest-hit European countries, finally saw the easing of the eight-week national lockdown after the coronavirus infected over 211,000 people and claimed some 29,000 lives across the country.

However, the first day of easing met with a mix of nervousness and optimism among Italians.

"I feel unsafe on the streets even though there's no reason to," Kate Nichols, a British author and homeschool teacher who has lived in Rome for nearly four years, said in an interview. "Everyone has been sensible, but I still felt vulnerable."

Rita Rivelli, the technical director of a restoration studio in Rome, held a complex feeling towards the easing. "I'm very happy to see my co-workers after two months," Rivelli told Xinhua. "But I'm a little scared as well."

Restrictions can be removed overnight, but businesses need time to win back customers.

Massimiliano Fabrizio, co-owner of Rome's Bar dei Cerchi, noted a big difference between the government's reopening and economy reopening.

"We opened today for takeaway coffee and food, but only a few people have come by," Fabrizio said in an interview. "It's good to be open and to see some of our regular customers. But there aren't many people in the streets and the offices nearby that we depend on are closed. We'll continue and hope for the best, but things won't really be open until everything is open."

The mixed feeling is tangible across Europe, including the Mediterranean island country Cyprus, which announced zero local coronavirus infections on Monday for the first time since the first case was confirmed on March 9.

Cyprus kick-started its economy on Monday by allowing 25,000 retail shops and the construction sector to resume operation after a six-week coronavirus lockdown.

While some electric and home appliances shops successfully lured long queues of customers with tempting discounts, most of the shops and restaurants catering to tourists remain closed despite the easing.

"Our customers are tourists, from England, Italy, France, Greece and Russia. It will be a long time before we see any of them," a woman said while rearranging shelves of her souvenir shop, which opened just because she preferred to be at work rather than staying at home.

Unfamiliar "normal" life

After closing for seven weeks due to the COVID-19, Austrian schools reopened to graduating classes on Monday, with teachers and students trying to adapt to the new routine of wearing masks, washing hands frequently and keeping social distance.

In many schools, to guarantee social distancing, lessons were not held in regular classrooms but in gymnasiums.

Among other things, handrails on the stairs were glued with barrier tape, and strips for distance control were found on the floor. The hygiene rules and instructions for correct movement in the school building were clearly visible at the entrance.

Greeks have also started a gradual return to normalcy on Monday, with mask-wearing required in public transport, taxis, elevators, or entering hospitals, pharmacies, and other enclosed spaces.

Portugal, where easing of nearly 50-day lockdown also started on Monday, the government even sent security forces to public transport stations to monitor the mask-wearing of passengers.

One of the first measures announced by Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes after the country began its first phase of deconfinement on Monday is the compulsory mask-wearing on public transport for everyone aged over 12. The government will provide at least one mask free of charge for each citizen.

In a shift that many Europeans would have never imagined, face mask-wearing is now a phenomenon in the streets of major European cities.

In East Asian countries like China, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, wearing masks in public has been widely accepted to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But in much of Europe, people wearing face masks were often met with strange looks in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tide is shifting. As European countries are easing the current stay-at-home order, face masks are set to play an even bigger part in the post-lockdown period. 

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