EU countries take preventive measures to bar people from unauthorised trips during the holiday, which coincides with rates of coronavirus infection slowing in many countries.

People walk for daily exercise allowance in St James's Park in central London on April 11, 2020.
People walk for daily exercise allowance in St James's Park in central London on April 11, 2020. (AFP)

European countries sought on Saturday to keep people from travelling in sunny Easter weather and grappled with how and when to start loosening weeks-long shutdowns of much of public life. 

Most European countries have gone well beyond that over recent weeks, imposing lockdowns of various severity. 

Beautiful weather across much of the continent provided an extra test of people’s discipline on a long Easter weekend like none before.

The global death toll from the virus surged past 1.7 million, with the US quickly becoming the epicentre of the pandemic that first emerged in China late last year. 

Europe has so far shouldered the majority of all deaths and infections – though there were signs of hope the curve could be starting to flatten in some of the hardest-hit countries.

Tempting weather

In Italy, checks were stepped up – particularly around the northern Lombardy region, which has borne the brunt of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Roadblocks were set up on main thoroughfares in and out of the regional capital, Milan, and along highway exits to discourage people from seeking escape on the holiday weekend.

"This year we cannot gather" for Easter, said the head of Italy's national health institute Silvio Brusaferro. 

"Even if the season is nice and we are tempted by all of our traditions and customs, this is something we need to try to control."

Spanish police set up thousands of roadblocks around the country to ensure that Spaniards with second residences don’t take unauthorised trips during the holiday.

In Britain, police were urged to keep a close watch on gatherings in parks and at the seaside on what was set to be the hottest day of the year. 

On Saturday, a motorcycle rider had his bike seized by police after he failed to stop while making a non-essential journey in central England.

Slower infection rates 

The Easter holidays coincide with mounting hope in Europe of light at the end of the tunnel as rates of infection slow in many cases.

Some countries are already planning small first steps out of the shutdown. Austria aims to reopen small shops on Tuesday.

Spain is preparing to start rolling back the strictest of its measures on Monday, when authorities will allow workers of some nonessential industries to return to work at factories and construction sites after a nearly complete two-week stoppage of industry.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said the government will distribute reusable masks at subway stations and other public transportation hubs on Monday and Tuesday.

“We think that with these measures we will prevent a jump in infections,” Illa said on Friday.

Despite mounting pressure from industry, Italy has continued to include all nonessential manufacturing in the extension of a national lockdown until May 3. 

But Premier Giuseppe Conte held out hope that some industry could re-open earlier if conditions permit.

’"If we give in now, there is the risk of needing to start all over again," Conte said in a Friday evening address. 

"It is necessary to maintain a high level of attention also for Easter."

Second shutdown, resurgence

German officials are set to consider on Wednesday how to proceed after several weeks of restrictions on public life, currently due to expire April 19. 

Officials have been careful to insist they will be cautious, pointing to the risk of undoing the gains the country has made.

“A second shutdown would be hard to cope with, economically and socially,” Winfried Kretschmann, the governor of Baden-Wuerttemberg state, told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that easing restrictions prematurely could "lead to a deadly resurgence."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Saturday that the government requires more evidence before it can start making changes to its lockdown measures.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia.

Confirmed infections rose above 1.7 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. There have been over 102,000 deaths, and over 377,000 people are reported to have recovered.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies