On Monday, Austria became the first European country to announce its plan to begin easing “lockdown” measures amid signs that it has made it through the worst stages of the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Other European countries are reportedly beginning to look with hope toward taking similar steps.
Austria has experienced “three consecutive days in which the number of coronavirus recoveries have exceeded the number of new cases,” The Washington Post explains. “On Monday, Austrian authorities reported 241 new infections over previous 24 hours, but 465 recoveries.”
With the improving numbers giving the country’s medical system more “breathing room,” the Austrian chancellor felt confident announcing Monday the country’s multiphase plan to reopen its society.
The first step will be to allow small shops to reopen next Monday, April 13, the Post repots. Phase two is scheduled to take place 18 days later, on May 1, when larger stores will be allowed to open. As long as the situation appears to be improving by the end of April, officials will schedule restaurants, hotels and schools to open in mid-May. Public events are expected, for now, to resume in July.
During this multistep process, officials will be requiring people to maintain key social distancing policies, including keeping the number of people in stores at one time below a specified limit and mask requirements in public settings.
“We reacted faster and more restrictively in Austria than in other countries and were therefore able to prevent the worst from happening so far,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Monday, citing the country’s decision to lockdown on March 16. “The quick and restrictive reaction now also gives us the opportunity to get out of this crisis faster.”
So long as people continue to follow officials’ mandates, the chancellor said, the newly unveiled easement schedule will hopefully be able to be carried out as planned.
The Post notes that other European countries — among them Belgium, Denmark, France and Spain — are beginning to feel similarly “hopeful” that they have “weathered the worst” of the epidemic’s first wave, though reports of a resurgence of infections in some Asian countries, particularly Singapore and Japan, have inspired caution among their leaders.
While most European countries have imposed stringent social distancing measures and have shutdown all public schools and many industries, Sweden has gone a different direction, opting for a “softer line” in addressing the pandemic, choosing not to impose widespread lockdowns or harsh quarantines, as John Fund and Joel Hay explain in a piece for National Review published Monday:
“The strategy in Sweden is to focus on social distancing among the known risk groups, like the elderly. We try to use evidence-based measurements,” Emma Frans, a doctor in epidemiology at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, told Euronews. “We try to adjust everyday life. The Swedish plan is to implement measurements that you can practice for a long time.”
The problem with lockdowns is that “you tire the system out,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, told the Guardian. “You can’t keep a lockdown going for months — it’s impossible.” He told Britain’s Daily Mail: “We can’t kill all our services. And unemployed people are a great threat to public health. It’s a factor you need to think about.”
Is Sweden’s approach working, or is it setting up, as some have predicted, for things to go “horribly wrong“?
So far, it appears to be paying off. The Nordic country of 10.1 million people has reported just 401 COVID-19 deaths so far and admissions to the ICU in the country “are flat or declining, and they have been for a week,” Fund and Hay explain. “As of this writing (based on currently available data), most of Sweden’s ICU cases today are elderly, and 77 percent have underlying conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. Moreover, there hasn’t been a single pediatric ICU case or death in Sweden — so much for the benefits of shutting down schools everywhere else. There are only 25 COVID-19 ICU admissions among all Swedes under the age of 30.” Meanwhile, they suggest, Sweden is likely developing herd immunity at a higher rate than more severely locked down societies.