Thousands of Spaniards woke up early on Saturday to lace up their running shoes for the first time in seven weeks after the government ended a prohibition on outdoor exercise.
Health emergency chief Fernando Simon said parks would be opened “when the time is right”. Speaking at a news conference in Madrid he added that the idea behind the latest easing was for people to exercise, not to socialise in groups.
Joggers, cyclists and surfers across Spain hurried out their homes on Saturday, allowed to exercise outdoors for the first time in seven weeks as the government began easing tough coronavirus restrictions.
Hit by one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, Spain imposed a strict lockdown in March, confining most of the population to their homes for all but essential trips.
Sports and recreational walks were banned.
The crowds could be a matter of concern for the authorities, who have stressed that the easing of restrictions must be cautious and for exercise, not socialising.
Prime Minster Pedro Sánchez called on people to follow guidelines on social distancing.
“Today we take a new step in the measures to ease the confinement but we must do it with prudence and responsibility. The virus is still there,” he tweeted.
As the rate of infection has fallen and hospitals have regained their footing, Sanchez’s government has shifted its focus towards reopening the country in a phased way and reviving a badly battered economy.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that countries must lift lockdowns gradually, while being ready to restore restrictions if the virus jumps back.
Sanchez announced a four-phase plan this week to return the country to what he termed “the new normality” by the end of June.
To avoid overcrowding as people get outside, the government has implemented a shift system, allocating different time slots to different age groups.
Businesses that operate by appointment, such as hairdressers, will be allowed to open from Monday. Bars and restaurants will remain closed for at least another week.
Spain has recorded a coronavirus death toll of 25,100, according to health ministry data on Saturday, and more than 216,582 cases.
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