London. Ontario: A typical scene in downtown shopping districts across Canada, as non-essential businesses ordered close to limit spread of COVID-19.: With economies hurting, new cases seeming to plateau, some countries are starting to ease restrictions, but not Canada, not yet (Travis Doynny-CBC)

COVID-19: Some countries easing restrictions, Canada not quite yet

Wuhan China which had been the centre of the global pandemic and which had been placed on lockdown for 10 weeks, has now eased travel restrictions.

Several countries in Europe are now preparing also to ease some of the restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the often deadly coronavirus.

Austria, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Norway, Bulgaria, and Spain have begun easing restrictions slightly, while Germany, Norway, Finland, and Ireland are discussing the idea. Switzerland will maintain controls until at least the end of the month.

Hard hit Italy will maintain its lockdowns until early May

In some cases this involves announcement of a gradual reopening of schools, small businesses, and farmers markets to begin this week with gradual easing of other sectors such as restaurants, hairdressers, DIY and gardening centres, towards the end of the month and by May 1st, with other gradual openings if all goes relatively well.

Sweden had imposed relatively few restrictions, and allowed businesses to remain open while only strongly recommending people work from home and avoid crowds. There has been a recent sudden spike in deaths there last week but an equally sudden drop in the number of deaths at the weekend. Sweden’s Prime Minister has said the limited restrictions and recommended actions were ‘not strong enough’ and that country is considering tighter controls.

While some have begun a very slight easing of restrictions, others have increased restrictions. Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea have added restrictions, including school and workplace closures in Singapore, a border closure to non residents in Hong Kong, while South Korea has also increased border restrictions an further delayed school re-openings.

In Australia where the second term begins this week in some cases, various states have said schools will reopen  but in some states, by online classes, while in other states schools have remained open although attendance fell to minimal levels. Elsewhere term-2 begins towards the end of the month. While most non-essential businesses were closed, the Australian cabinet is set to vote this week on a national policy for schools.

Canada-no easing yet

In Canada, provinces and territories have enacted health and/or provincial states of emergencies beginning on March 13 in Quebec, with other provinces adding their own emergency declarations on following days, ending with the Yukon declaring a state of emergency on March 27.

These have generally involved closures of all schools and public institutions such as libraries,  as well as varying closures of playgrounds and parks across the country, Generally non-essential businesses are closed along with other restrictions on movements and requirements to keep a distance of two metres between people (social distancing). These measures remain in place until mid-April in some cases, and May in others, with the possibility of extensions.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says life will not begin to return to normal until there’s a vaccine, which could still be many months away. ( Sean Kilpatrick-CP)

The federal government has said restrictions such as social distancing will likely remain until mid-summer, adding that life will not fully return to normal until there is a vaccine, which could be anywhere from six to 18 months away.

The effect on the economy has been devastating, and the federal government has instituted programmes to relieve some of the financial pressure on individuals and businesses.  The economic pressure to begin easing restrictions is enormous as many businesses and workers say they can’t survive the financial strain much longer.

Now, two provinces have begun musing at least about the need to begin a loosening of some of their emergency restrictions towards a gradual return of the economy.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said he was encouraged by news of a decrease in the number of new cases and hoped the province could soon begin to loosen some restrictions. However he also said that the worst may be yet to come in mid-month, and so restrictions would have to stay in place

West coast British Columbia is also talking about an eventual easing.  The rate of infections there has begun to decrease along with the number of hospitalizations.

A University of British Columbia epidemiologist says it’s still too early to talk about easing restrictions as there are still many unknowns such as the number of people who test positive for the virus but show no signs, and how contagious they might be.

B.C. provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, suggested the possibility of relaxing some measures in areas of the province where infection is low.

B.C. health official Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the COVID-19 update on March 26, 2020. She recently said B.C may consider relaxing some conditions in regions of the province where infections are going down, but that possibility is still under discussion (Michael McArthur/CBC)

In all cases though, it seems that throughout Canada, relaxation of the restrictions in April remains unlikely, In the meantime, police forces across the country continue to warn people and businesses about violations of restrictions, such as social distance, and self isolation. A number of heavy fines have also been issued where police and bylaw officers deem a stronger message is required.

In all cases around the northern hemisphere, authorities will likely struggle with people staying indoors and social distancing as populations are eager to get out and enjoy warmer weather after a long winter, in spite of recommendations, health warnings, and emergency restrictions.

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