Europe awakes from COVID-19 restrictions, embraces new-found freedom
-- Life is slowly returning to normal across Europe and governments have started reopening the economy as the spread of COVID-19 is under control in many countries.
-- Lockdowns are being loosened while hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are reopening with necessary safety measures.
-- Many businesses are seeking to survive the crisis with creativity, self-reliance and adjustments to local conditions, with new business forms emerging.
VIENNA - As Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the European Commission for Promoting the European Way of Life, has said, being European could mean feeling safe at home, on streets, and at "all of the places we like to meet, exchange, and experience life together."
However, such a European way of life was reshaped after Europe was badly hit by COVID-19, which has infected more than 2 million people across the continent.
With the COVID-19 outbreak largely controlled in Europe, governments have started reopening the economy, and people are beginning to embrace their new-found freedom.
However, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides warned that "this summer will not be a summer like all the others, and we're going to have to adapt to the new reality."
RETURNING TO NORMAL
Having seen "flattened curves" of the spread of COVID-19, governments have carried out phased plans to revive the continent with, for example, France's cafes, Italy's museums and Greece's archaeological sites as its cultural labels.
On Tuesday, France entered the second phase of de-confinement, with an increasing number of restaurants and cafes to restore operations, after the nation started a phased recovery plan on May 11.
Narjess, a 41-year-old English teacher at a training center in Paris, planned to celebrate "the big Tuesday" by joining her friends for a drink, the first time since the nation entered lockdown on March 17.
"At last, I can find my daily life as before the confinement," Narjess, who did not give her full name, told Xinhua.
"The reopening of cafes, hotels and restaurants marks the return of happy days! There is no doubt that the French will find this part of the French spirit, our culture and our way of life again," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
Meanwhile, since Italy's phase-two recovery strategy put an end to travel restrictions on the Vatican Museums, the first 1,600 visitors were allowed to explore cultural treasures there on Monday.
On Tuesday, a massive Raphael exhibit reopened in Rome to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of the Renaissance artist.
After a two-month lockdown, more than 200 archaeological sites in Greece reopened on May 18. Ian Coe, a British man living in Greece, was among the first visitors to the sacred hill.
"It has been fantastic, absolutely beautiful. (I'm) very fortunate to be here today with a few people as it is reopened," Coe told Xinhua. "We have to be careful, we have to wash, use masks, take precautions, look after each other, but in Greece, you have done a very good job dealing with the problem."
The European Union (EU) proposed an unprecedented stimulus package worth 750 billion euros ($846 billion) in May to address the COVID-19 fallout.
Countries have also taken steps to spur spending by providing citizens with bonuses and vouchers while keeping precautionary measures in place.
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel unveiled a stimulus package of nearly 147 billion dollars for 2020 and 2021, which includes a temporary reduction in sales tax and a child subsidy worth 340 dollars per child.
Austria's capital of Vienna is running a "Vienna Gastro Voucher" campaign from June to September, with vouchers handed out to some 950,000 households.
"Our much-admired Viennese gastronomy scene comprises 6,500 businesses, which in turn secures around 60,000 jobs and ensures sales of 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion)," Mayor Michael Ludwig said, adding that "the voucher campaign shows that we are fighting for every business and every job."
To avoid an avalanche of bankruptcies and layoffs, the French government announced a 20-billion-dollar recovery plan to support tourism stakeholders in May.
After entering the second phase of reopening, France has become the first European country to launch a mobile app called "StopCovid" for digital tracing, which uses bluetooth to detect the proximity of users, as part of preventive measures against possible rebounds of the virus.
While the pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the bloc's economy and trade, many businesses are seeking opportunities to survive the crisis with creativity, self-reliance and adjustments to local conditions, with new business forms emerging.
To skirt around travel restrictions, Finnish tourism destinations are turning to virtual tourism, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
The first virtual tourists from Japan are set to visit the Savonlinna region in eastern Finland, the heart of the nation's lake district, on Saturday. Paying 23 dollars per person, they will participate in the tour from home via video links.
Considering margins for local organizers are small, virtual tours can be profitable for operators, Finnish tourism insiders said.
On May 30, Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, one of the world's best museums of fine arts, reopened to the public. After booking tickets online, visitors will see a message saying, "pay as you wish."
This is a promotion campaign allowing visitors to decide for themselves "what a visit to one of the most important and largest art galleries in the world is worth," the museum's spokesperson Nina Auinger told Xinhua.
"Last weekend we had 3,000 to 4,000 visitors and most of them paid the normal entrance fee. They showed us their friendship and support," she added.
A Lithuanian restaurant owner has also put forward a creative idea to seek business opportunities while following social distancing.
At the restaurant Cozy in Lithuania's capital of Vilnius, mannequins wearing fashion pieces by local designers and brands from 19 boutiques are placed to fill the space between dining tables.
At each table, customers can find information about the exhibited items and where they can be purchased.
"This way, restaurants expect to be able to maintain the required indoor social distancing while helping designers gain attention for this season's newest fashion trends," said Go Vilnius, organizer of the initiative and the official development agency of the City of Vilnius in its press release.