Europe is embracing a cautious but steady return to normal life as lockdowns are gradually being eased in many countries ahead of a much-awaited tourist season.
Normality was seen returning as cinemas and museums reopened, and outdoor services resumed over the past week at bars, cafes and restaurants, allowing some of the old patterns of life to return, reports Xinhua.
With the accelerated COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) are hoping to have a digital vaccination certificate for travel in place by the end of June, which will grant people the freedom of traveling during the summer holidays.
Meanwhile, the EU is hoping its reopening to tourists and a subsequent recovery of the tourism industry will help ease its economic recession.
Despite the encouraging outlook, many remain cautious and watchful as the coronavirus and its variants are still very much present.
GRADUAL RETURN TO NORMAL LIFE
France on Wednesday took an important step towards returning to normality as its people can once again meet up in cafes or dine in restaurants, which are now allowed to open their terraces.
Despite the unseasonable weather, people in Paris flocked to the streets, excited at the prospect of a return of social life.
Although it was chilly to sit in the drizzle on the terrace of L'Etang brasserie in L'Isle-Adam, northern Paris, Mathieu, a kindergarten teacher who gave only his first name, told Xinhua it was a real pleasure to have a drink outside, which for him was a clear sign of a return to normality.
"The previous months were hard to endure so I've decided to celebrate this important day by having a drink, even though alone," he said, with a big smile.
Life is gradually returning to normal in Poland as the government has been lifting COVID-19 restrictions since the start of May. Starting on May 15, restaurants and bars are allowed to open their terraces to diners, after over a year of lockdown during which restaurants were allowed only to offer takeaways or deliveries.
The day the lockdown was lifted in Poland turned out to be a red-letter day for Lukas Mol, owner of Urban Nomad Bistro, a bar and restaurant outside Warsaw's city center. He said his restaurant saw the highest daily sales in more than a year.
"The lifting of the restrictions has cheered up everyone, and you can see the joy of freedom on their faces," He said.
Lockdown lifting will go further with indoor dining being allowed starting on May 29, as long as restaurants open only up to 50 percent of their normal capacity.
Despite the widespread jubilance, Preeti Shukla, a general practitioner (GP) in Lancashire, and GP Forum Chair of British International Doctors Association, urged the public to remain cautious.
"It's really important that we don't throw caution to the wind -- especially with the new variant," Shukla told Xinhua. She said the public should continue to follow the rules by wearing masks, respecting social distancing, washing hands carefully and doing regular testing.
Now that life is gradually returning to normal, she warned against a "very laid-back attitude" that may result in yet another lockdown. "None of us want that -- we've had enough."
The German government remained cautious about the summer holiday season despite the falling daily COVID-19 infections, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said on Monday.
"We have not yet achieved the conditions to enjoy a relaxed summer like last year," stressed Seibert, adding that the goal is still to significantly reduce the number of infections in Germany.
"We are not yet where we want to be," said Seibert, adding that wearing face masks, keeping distance, testing and using the COVID-19-warning app remain important in the fight against the pandemic.
As the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Latvia gathers pace, the government has decided to allow groups of up to 20 vaccinated employees to return to their shared workplaces.
However, strict epidemiological requirements are still in place if one person in the same room does not have immunity to the coronavirus. Masks and distancing are also compulsory in premises that are shared with other people with unknown immunity status.
DAWN OF TOURISM RECOVERY
The lockdown was further eased on Monday across Britain despite concerns over risks posed by coronavirus variants, especially those first detected in India. Pubs, bars and restaurants in England are permitted to reopen indoors, and indoor entertainment facilities have also resumed, including cinemas, museums and play areas for children.
Meanwhile, all remaining accommodation including hotels, hostels and B&Bs was reopened as of May 17. With the lifting of the foreign travel ban, people are allowed to travel to a number of green-list countries without having to quarantine upon their return.
Austria eased its entry rules on Wednesday. Travelers from a list of low-risk countries and regions can now enter Austria with a negative COVID test, a proof of vaccination, or others, to avoid quarantine.
Latvia has already exempted vaccinated people from routine COVID-19 tests and quarantine which are mandatory for travelers upon entering the country from EU member states, the European Economic Area, Switzerland and Britain.
The Faro airport in southern Portugal received more than 5,000 British passengers on May 17 alone as the country eased travel restrictions and sanitary rules for tourists from Britain.
According to the Portuguese airline TAP, the volume of flights purchased from Britain rose 131 percent recently.
Also, cruise ship arrivals at the port of Lisbon were reactivated on Monday, and passengers only need to present a negative COVID-19 test to enter the city.
In Germany, the quarantine requirement for those entering the country from high incidence areas remains in force but the 10-day quarantine could be reduced to five days with a negative test result. However, those arriving in Germany from a "virus variant area" are still required to spend 14 days in quarantine.