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A Look At How Europe Is Getting Back To 'Normal' After Coronavirus Lockdowns


Every morning, NPR's foreign correspondents file short advisories back to headquarters here in Washington letting editors know what they're working on, what the headlines are in their patch of the world. Lately, our correspondents in Europe have written accounts of kids going back to school, of travel restrictions being lifted. It can feel reading from here in the states like you were reading dispatches not just from another country but from another world. The average virus infection rate in the EU now is about one-seventh what it is in the U.S. So is Europe getting back to something resembling normal?

Well, we've got our reporters in Paris, in London and in Germany on the line to try to answer that. We have caught them at various cafes and markets outside, and we're going to let them tell us what Europe looks and feels like today. And Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, I'm going to bring you in first. I'm thinking Paris in July is usually glorious. I'm also thinking it's usually emptied out by actual Parisians and jammed with foreign tourists. Is that the case this year?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: No, it's really weird. It's completely the opposite. And, you know, I feel like this summer is very relaxed as Parisians are enjoying their own city for once. Most of the French are not going on vacation far. They're going to stay in France this year or maybe go to a neighboring European country in their car. But a lot of Parisians seem to be enjoying their own city. I'm down by the Seine River where this riverside cafe, totally open air with these wooden seats and tables and parasols, have opened. And people are just starting to gather for, you know, a drink on a Friday night. And it's really a nice, relaxed atmosphere here.

KELLY: OK. Let's hear how that compares to London, which is where we find Frank Langfitt. Frank, where exactly are you?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Yeah. So, Mary Louise, I'm at a - I'm sitting on a sidewalk outside of Borough Market. This is right near London Bridge. It's a huge open air market with lots of food stalls. It's actually been open for - and operating for quite some time. And right now, there are hundreds of people down here, mostly socially distancing, drinking beers, something like that. They'll grab a beer at a, you know, out a window of a pub or something like that and then go down and sit along the river.

This is actually a really - a pivot point today because the government just announced that it's going to do away with a quarantine for people coming in from more than 50 countries. So that should open up travel, and one of those countries, of course, is not going to be the United States because the rate is so high in the U.S. And then tomorrow, pubs and restaurants are going to open entirely.

KELLY: All right. Now, let me bring in Rob Schmitz, our correspondent in Germany. We find him today on the road. You're somewhere outside Munich, is that right, Rob?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Yeah. Mary Louise, I'm right outside Munich. We've been driving all day from Berlin. We're the first day or first leg of a road trip that we're taking.

KELLY: That sounds fabulous. OK. So give us a sense of the landscape there because Germany won all kind of plaudits for how they handled the pandemic. How is the reopening? Is it going as smoothly?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, it's not going too badly. You know, when Germany opened up more than a month ago, there were a lot of skeptics predicting a second wave that would spread through the country, and that was supposed to happen by now. But, you know, so far, that has not happened on a mass scale, though there have been small pockets of outbreaks that authorities have sort of managed to quell. But the summer vacation season has just started here, so we'll see what happens when more people are on the move.

KELLY: Yeah. And we've caught you on a road trip. Are Germans planning much of the same? Are more Germans planning to stay home this year than they might have in years past?

SCHMITZ: Well, yeah, this is typically the start of the annual tourism season in much of Europe. And Germans typically, you know, head to the beaches of Spain, Greece, Italy and some to the United States. Obviously, the U.S. is out of the question now, but some German tourists are venturing back to these spots because they're open to anyone inside the EU and more than a dozen other countries deemed safe by the EU. But for the most part, Germans are sticking to their own country. You know, hotels and Airbnbs along Germany's Baltic coast are booked up, as are getaways here in Bavaria and other popular destinations. Germans are using this opportunity to sort of explore their own country and neighboring countries, but most are not going too far afield.

KELLY: Let me flip that back to you in London, Frank. There were pictures making headlines everywhere just recently of Brits out jamming a beach on a pretty summer weekend. How is it going in Britain in terms of tourism, in terms of travel? You said some travel restrictions coming in have just changed.

LANGFITT: Yeah. And so I think that that may mean that more people will do exactly what Rob's saying is they might venture to Paris. They might head on over to Europe. But I think he's right. A lot of people are going to stay here just because I think there's a feeling of uncertainty. I was actually looking at maybe going up to Scotland, and a lot of stuff is already booked. And then people are doing a lot of day trips. Like, you saw those beaches in Bournemouth on the south coast. It was nuts about a week or so ago. And I was also traveling there, recently went swimming, found a beach that was a lot better. But, yeah, people are getting out, but mostly I think a lot of people are going to be staying close to the U.K.

KELLY: Well, given all of the travel and given how much all three of you are describing things starting to open up in Europe, I wonder about fears of a new spike like we're seeing here in the U.S. Eleanor, you first. Where are the French on fears that this is not quite over yet?

BEARDSLEY: Well, the French are very aware of what's going on in the world, in the U.S., how, you know, the virus is still, you know, exploding. But here in France, there is really sort of a relaxed feeling. I would say people are being careful. You know, people wear masks on public transport and in stores, but I'm down by the river, and there's tons of Parisians at this little riverside cafe. People are out everywhere. There's a very relaxed feeling that it's - if it's not completely behind us, it's almost behind us. And if we're careful, we can still keep heading in the right direction.

KELLY: It sounds like a great time to come to Paris, if only Americans could go. Rob, how about in Germany? What are fears there about a new spike?

SCHMITZ: Well, a couple weeks ago, there were a few outbreaks in different parts of Germany with a relatively large one at a meat processing plant in the northwest of the country that infected more than 2,000 people. And that gave everyone kind of a scare, but local authorities did what they were supposed to under the regulations set forth by the government, and they locked down the surrounding community. They tested it. They conducted intense rounds of contact tracing. And since then, new infections in Germany have dropped to around 500 a day, and for a country of 83 million, that's pretty manageable.

KELLY: Frank, how worried are Brits about another spike?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Mary Louise, I think people are very nervous about it. We've already had one city that it's going to - these restaurants and pubs are going to - the open is going to be delayed its luster because they had a spike in cases. And I was just talking to a security guard here in Borough Market, and he said he expects tons of people to come in this summer and that by the early fall, he says, you know, he thinks there'll be a second spike. Lots of people think that. And he pointed out to all of these shops, and he says that all these places are going to go bankrupt. So there is a lot of concern here that there will be a second spike. And certainly when things get cold, we get into the flu season in the fall, it could look very, very different.

KELLY: That is NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting there from London, Eleanor Beardsley from Paris and Rob Schmitz from Munich in Germany, all painting a little bit of a portrait of a continent in transition trying to figure out this next step in the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks so much to all three of you.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Mary Louise.

LANGFITT: Happy Fourth. Take care, Mary Louise.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, happy fourth, everyone.

KELLY: Happy fourth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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