- The WHO recognized Europe as the epicenter of the global outbreak in early March, with Spain, Italy, France and Germany all now reporting more than 100,000 cases of the virus.
- However, some smaller countries in the region have reported a slowing number of new infections and fatalities in recent days.
- Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway have now all announced plans to slowly relax national lockdowns later this month.
Some European countries have cautiously announced plans to lift coronavirus lockdown measures over the coming days, seeking to pave the way for a return to normal life after a month of severe restrictions.
The WHO recognized Europe as the epicenter of the global outbreak in early March, with Spain, Italy, France and Germany all now reporting more than 100,000 cases of the virus.
However, some smaller countries in the region have reported a slowing number of new infections and fatalities in recent days.
It has tentatively elevated hopes of a possible exit strategy to the pandemic. Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway have now all announced plans to slowly relax national lockdowns later this month.
The ongoing public health crisis has meant countries around the world have effectively had to shut down, with many governments imposing draconian measures on the daily lives of billions of people.
The restrictions, which have ranged from school closures to social distancing and bans on public gatherings, were brought in to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Wednesday, more than 1.44 million COVID-19 infections had been reported worldwide, with 82,992 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Austria laid out plans to emerge from lockdown earlier this week, proposing to re-open some shops from April 14.
"We reacted faster and more restrictively than in other countries and could therefore avoid the worst. But this fast and restrictive reaction now also gives us the possibility to come out of this crisis more quickly," Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Monday.
"Easter week will be a decisive one for us," Kurz cautioned.
Austria's chancellor, the world's youngest head of government at 33-years-old, said the plan was for all shops to follow suit and open from May 1.
However, only one shopper per 20 square meters of shopping space will be permitted and all shoppers will be required to wear face masks at supermarkets and drugstores of more than 400 square meters in size.
Kurz said restaurants and hotels would not re-open until the middle of next month, at the earliest, and public events would not be allowed until at least late June.
To date, Austria has reported 12,639 cases of the coronavirus, with 243 deaths.
In Denmark, care centers and schools are set to reopen from April 15, allowing parents to return to a normal workday. However, all remaining restrictions, including bans of public gatherings of more than 10 people, will stay in place for another four weeks.
"This will probably be a bit like walking the tightrope," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a media briefing earlier this week. "If we stand still along the way we could fall and if we go too fast it can go wrong. Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time."
The Nordic country has seen coronavirus cases and deaths stabilize in recent days, but the prime minister warned a gradual reopening would only continue if citizens stuck to the government's guidelines.
Denmark has reported more than 5,000 COVID-19 infections, with 203 fatalities.
Norway has also announced plans to gradually relax coronavirus restrictions, with kindergartens now scheduled to reopen between April 20 and April 27. Schools from the first grade to fourth grade will open from April 27.
"Together we have taken control of the virus, therefore we can open up society little by little," Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference on Tuesday.
The country, which currently has restrictions in place until April 13, has closed nurseries and schools and refused entry to foreigners who do not live or work in Norway.
Solberg warned that while measures would be taken to slowly reopen, working from home would continue and Norwegians should get used to measures designed to limit the spread of the virus "for a long time."
Norway has had just over 6,000 cases of the coronavirus, with 89 deaths nationwide.
In the Czech Republic, the government has said some shops will reopen from Thursday, with rules to be relaxed on sporting activities that don't involve the congregation of people — such as running and cycling.
It was one of the first European countries to impose lockdown measures in early March, announcing strict measures to restrict daily life even before the number of infections nationwide surpassed 200.
"We are clearly saying now that we are able to relatively well manage the pandemic here, it is not the pandemic managing us," Health Minister Adam Vojtech said in a press conference earlier this week.
"We are not facing massive increases in the numbers of patients — identified or hospitalized," he added. As of Wednesday, the Czech Republic has reported more than 5,000 people had contracted COVID-19, with 88 deaths.