Photo essay: What life looks like in Europe as the continent starts to reopen
It doesn’t quite represent a return to “normal,” but for millions of Europeans, it does represent a reminder of what normal used to look like, now in a deeply altered state.
In Italy, it’s now possible to pick up an espresso and a pastry. In Austria, it’s suddenly an option to get a haircut. In Germany, you can go to a car dealership, maybe even stop by a museum.
Within a week or two, other pleasures that were once considered routine—like going to a restaurant—will return across much of Europe, as countries gradually lift lockdown measures and nudge economic and social activity back to life. It doesn’t quite represent a return to “normal,” but for millions of Europeans, it does represent a reminder of what normal used to look like, now in a deeply altered state.
In Italy, which was hit the earliest and arguably the hardest by the outbreak in Europe, this progress is particularly bittersweet—and highlights vast disparities within the country. While the severity of the pandemic has drawn out inequalities across social and economic lines, cruelly translated into death rates, the divide has largely been geographic.
The wealthy north, the industrial hub of the country, suffered brutal months of war-like conditions in hospitals as people died in the tens of thousands—producing stiff resistance to reopening too early. The south, which is far poorer, by contrast has been largely spared the worst.
There are other disparities too. While reopening has already begun in Switzerland and Portugal, for example, the gradual easing of lockdown conditions won’t begin in France until next week. In the U.K., which went into lockdown later than most of continental Europe and now has more deaths than Italy, the government is under pressure to reveal even the initial details of how the country will emerge. Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce the details of a reopening next weekend.
Europe’s reopening, and China’s before that, hold plenty of lessons for the U.S. In Fortune’s series on the reopening across seven Chinese cities, residents describe a daily reality that is inextricably changed—even as the darkest days of the lockdown, according to a college student in Wuhan, already seem like distant memories. The main narrative seems to be an extension of a message that has gained momentum since the beginning of the pandemic: Daily life will be altered for some time, maybe forever—but people will find a way to adapt.
The reopening is not purely hopeful, either—it comes with serious risks. Scientists have warned since the start of the year that a reopening can bring a second spike in infections. Some Chinese cities have already seen this happen, particularly as travelers from harder-hit regions return.
The economic case for reopening is not as clear cut as it might seem, either. Economists warn that a poorly timed and planned reopening, without sufficient testing and tracing systems, can not only not help the economy—it can hurt it.
Barbershops and cafés may reopen—but people need to feel safe enough, and have enough trust in their governments, to actually use them.
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