Lockdown End Date Debate Rages Across Europe As Different Countries Criticized for Quarantine Measures

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, U.S. lockdown measures, which have seen nearly all 50 states placed under stay-at-home orders, have come under debate across the country.

At a White House press briefing on Thursday, President Donald Trump revealed a plan to reopen the country in three phases "as conditions allow." Last week he claimed he had "total authority" to override state governors' stay-at-home orders if they conflict with his plan to reopen.

Liberals and conservatives in the U.S. have clashed over the debate. Democrat governors are hesitant to set a definite reopening date just yet, but Republican governors have pushed for an early easing of restrictions in view of the damaging economic effects.

However, criticism of lockdown measures and government responses to the pandemic has also been raging across Europe, including in Italy, Spain, the U.K., Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden.


Italy currently has the world's second-highest number of deaths from the virus, after the U.S., with at least 22,170 reported casualties among its nearly 169,000 confirmed cases as of Friday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

It has been in lockdown from March 9 and will remain in lockdown until at least May 3, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed earlier this month.

This week saw the country slowly begin to ease restrictions after the outbreak showed signs of reaching a plateau in recent weeks. Even so, the journey getting there has not been without controversy and criticism.

Last month, the government issued a decree banning residents from entering or leaving Lombardy, the country's worst-hit region in northern Italy, as well as in 11 other provinces. A subsequent decree shut down operations across 80 different sectors, including companies involved in the production and distribution of drugs and medical devices.

While the measures may have seemed draconian to some, others believed they weren't strict enough.

"We are moderately satisfied because it established a principle, but the decree leaves too many open windows," Andrea Agazzi, general secretary of the Federation of Metallurgical Workers (FIOM) in the city of Bergamo, told Al Jazeera last month.

Lombardy President Attilio Fontana said at the time: "The recent data requires us to act as soon as possible: we can reverse an ever worrying tide only with a further action restricting all personal contacts. His deputy Fabrizio Sala noted: "This is not enough to contain the virus."

From Tuesday this week, a few shops, including those selling books, stationery and children's clothing, were allowed to reopen. Strict rules on hygiene and the number of customers hosted will apply for all shops resuming operations. Factories have remained closed


Spain has the highest number of cases in Europe and the second-highest in the world, as of Friday, with nearly 185,000 confirmed infections and at least 19,315 deaths, the third-highest death toll in the world after the U.S. and Italy.

The outbreak in Spain has also been turning a corner in recent weeks, with the number of new cases and new deaths on a slightly declining trend. The country began a partial easing of restrictions this week.

A few businesses, including some within the construction and manufacturing sectors, were allowed to resume operations on Monday. But the country remains in lockdown, with shops, bars and public spaces remaining closed until at least April 26, Spain's Minister of Health Salvador Illa has confirmed.

Some officials have criticized the latest move, including President of Catalonia Quim Torra who said the move as "reckless and imprudent," at a conference on Sunday with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and other regional leaders.

But others were in favor of the partial reopening, including the president of the Cantabria region in northern Spain, Miguel Ángel Revilla, who noted it would be counterproductive to "completely stop the economy."

Earlier this week, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau Ballano called for an end to the lockdown in a bid to "free our children," urging that "these children need to get out" in a lengthy post to her official Facebook account.

The mayor said children should "be taken into account in this confinement...the situation is unsustainable."


Cases and deaths in the U.K. have also been soaring in recent weeks. The country now has more than 104,100 infections, including at least 13,729 deaths, as of Friday.

The situation took a dramatic turn when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he was infected and transferred to an intensive care unit at a hospital in London. He has since left the hospital and is recovering at his country home in the county of Buckinghamshire, north of London.

Compared with other parts of Europe, the U.K. has come under criticism for not implementing mitigation measures sooner. The country has been in lockdown since March 23.

"Where were the system errors that led us to have probably the highest death rates in Europe?," the professor of International Child Health and Director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, Anthony Costello, told the U.K. Health and Social Care Committee on Friday.

He added: "And we have to face the reality of that: We were too slow with a number of things. But we can make sure in the second wave we are not too slow."

He added: "We've sacrificed far too much to ease up now. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but now we are at both a delicate and dangerous stage in this pandemic."

"The recent estimates, even from the [U.K.] chief scientific officer, is that after this wave—we could see 40,000 deaths by the time it's over—we could only have maybe 10%, 15% of the population infected or covered," he warned.

"So the idea of herd immunity would mean another five, six waves maybe in order to get to 60%," he added.


The numbers in Germany have also been climbing in recent weeks. The country now has more than 138,200 confirmed cases and over 4,000 deaths.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn claimed its strong healthcare system "at no time been overwhelmed so far," at a press conference Friday. "The outbreak has — as of today — become controllable and manageable again," he said.

Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's federal disease control agency, said the virus reproduction or transmission rate in Germany had dropped below 1 — meaning one person with the virus infects fewer than one other on average.

"We see now that for the first time we are below 1. We will see whether that remains stable ... There can be new infections any time," he noted at the press conference.

"We have withstood a first wave very well, achieved through a joint effort by society, but that can change any time," he added.

The RKI has previously been critical of the German government's response to the outbreak, particularly its virus-testing methods. The institute said too many asymptomatic patients were being tested, running the risk of running out of test kits.

The country was also criticized by the European Union for banning the export of critical protective gear, such as gowns, face masks and visors.

Germany is due to begin a partial reopening of shops next week and schools from May 4, German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed on Wednesday.

People in the eastern state of Saxony will be required to wear masks on public transport and in shops while restrictions are eased. It is the first German state to introduce such a requirement.


France currently has the third-largest number of cases in Europe and the fourth-largest in the world. It has over 147,100 confirmed infections and at least 17,920 fatalities, as of Friday. The country was devastated by the outbreak for a while, with cases and deaths starting to see a sharp rise from around mid to late March.

The country entered lockdown mode around mid-March but it has been criticized for not being prepared to face the challenges of the pandemic. French President Emmanuel Macron admitted this earlier this week.

"Were we prepared for this crisis? On the face of it, not enough. But we coped," Macron said in a televised address.

"This moment, let's be honest, has revealed cracks, shortages. Like every country in the world, we have lacked gloves, hand gel, we haven't been able to give out as many masks as we wanted to our health professionals," he added.


Relative to other European countries, including neighboring France, Belgium has seen a much smaller portion of cases. The country currently has 36,168 cases and over 5,100 deaths.

But the country has faced criticism for both being too strict and not strict enough with its mitigation measures to combat the outbreak.

Back in early March, the country's health minister, Maggie De Block, announced the country was entering "phase two" of the outbreak, reporting one confirmed and identified case and that more would be expected.

The announcement prompted the mayor of the Woluwe-Saint-Lambert municipality, Olivier Maingain, to take extreme measures to prevent an outbreak in the local area. A police order was issued banning access to all public buildings for 14 days by anyone who has recently traveled.

Other local leaders criticized the reaction, saying it would only cause fear and panic. Vincent De Wolf, mayor of Etterbeek, whose commune forms part of the same police zone as Maingain, said at the time: "This order is going to create panic and anxiety among the population. The coronavirus is a matter of federal public health, and implementing measures at a municipal level is simply grotesque."

On March 18, Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced a nationwide lockdown would be in effect through April 5. But critics argued that there were too many exemptions to the lockdown.

The country has extended its lockdown until May 3. "It is not impossible some people will see this as an easing of the basic rules. But there is not the case. They remain as they are until May 3 and must absolutely be respected. We have not arrived at the stage of an exit," Wilmes warned this week.


While Sweden comparatively has a much lower number of cases than several other countries in Europe, it has also come under criticism for being too relaxed in its approach to address the outbreak.

The country has reported more than 13,200 cases and 1,400 deaths. The number of new cases and new fatalities have been spiking from around late March and soaring in recent days. But it has yet to impose a lockdown and residents are allowed to visit restaurants and children are allowed to go to school.

But health experts have feared the potential consequences of this lax approach. "We don't have a choice, we have to close Stockholm right now," Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at the Karolinska Institute, told Reuters.

Sweden Stockholm coronavirus March 2020
A man wears a protective mask as he visits the cherry blossoms trees at Kungstradgarden in Stockholm, Sweden on March 28, 2020. Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises. Getty Images

She is one of nearly 2,300 academics who signed a letter addressed to the government last month urging tougher measures to be introduced to protect the healthcare system.

"We must establish control over the situation, we cannot head into a situation where we get complete chaos. No one has tried this route, so why should we test it first in Sweden, without informed consent?" she said.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 across the globe.

statista global chart coronavirus
The number of COVID-18 cases across the globe. Statista

Data on COVID-19 cases is from Johns Hopkins University unless otherwise stated.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.