UK, Portugal and Greece ease restrictions

·3-min read

Authorities in Portugal and Greece have eased coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country was on track to allow shops and gyms to open next week.

Restrictions were loosened in Portugal on Monday as cafes, pubs and restaurants welcomed back guests for the first time in over two months.

Service is only allowed in outdoor areas and only until 10.30pm on weekdays and 1pm on weekends and public holidays.

A maximum of four people are allowed to sit at each table.

In addition, the 10.3 million residents of the country are now allowed to leave their respective residential district without having to give a "valid reason" but border controls with Spain remain in place.

This easing follows the re-openings of hairdressers and bookstores in Portugal three weeks ago and comes as other European countries like France and Germany are tightening their coronavirus restrictions.

Greece allowed shops to reopen under controlled conditions on Monday, despite heavy pressure on its health services, as the government responded to growing public fatigue after months of lockdown.

Last week the government announced the easing of some restrictions, allowing small retail shops selling non-essential goods to reopen, under so-called click-away and click-in-shopping modes.

Under the rules, consumers must make appointments and comply with a three-hour limit for shopping, and retailers cannot allow in more than one customer per 25 square metres.

"What is important is that the shops opened," said Achilleas Nasis, a shopper in central Athens.

"And it's nice, under this new system where you send a message, you choose and you go get it. It is good."

The measure excludes shopping malls and department stores in the Athens area which will remain closed.

Shops will also remain closed in three regions with severe infection levels, including the major northern city of Thessaloniki.

The UK's slow but steady march out of a three-and-a-half-month lockdown remains on track, Johnson said on Monday.

He confirmed that businesses from barbers to bookstores will be allowed to re-open next week.

Johnson said it's too soon to decide, however, whether UK residents will be able to have holiday trips abroad.

He said that the government will test out a contentious "vaccine passport" system - a way for people to offer proof they have protection from COVID-19 - as a tool to help travel and large events return safely.

Four weeks after England took its first step out of lockdown by re-opening schools, Johnson said the UK's vaccination program was proceeding well and infections were falling.

He said the next step would come as planned on April 12, with the re-opening of hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms, non-essential shops and bar and restaurant patios.

A ban on overnight domestic stays away from home will also be lifted that day and outdoor venues such as zoos and drive-in cinemas can operate again.

The measures apply in England while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different paths.