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Fresh air at last! Spanish children go outdoors for first time in six weeks

A woman and two children run along the empty La Bola street, after restrictions were partially lifted for children for the first time in six weeks, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Ronda, Spain, April 26, 2020. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

By Jessica Jones and Clara-Laeila Laudette

On foot and with bicycles, skateboards and scooters, Spanish children went outside at last on Sunday, emerging from their homes for the first time after six long weeks of living under one of Europe's strictest coronavirus lockdowns.

The relaxation came as Spain, one of the worst hit by the global COVID-19 epidemic, registered its lowest daily increase in the coronavirus death toll in more than a month.

Under 14s were allowed outside for the first time since the government declared a state of emergency on March 14 and shut down most public life and economic activity. Children wearing protective masks strolled the streets in Madrid.

Lucia Ibanez, 9, out for a walk with her mother, said she had missed the streets and the park and "feeling the air on your face" during lockdown.

"I never thought I would miss school but I really miss it," she said.

Children will be allowed one hour of supervised outdoor activity per day between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., staying within one kilometre of their home.

Adults can accompany up to three children, who will not be allowed to use playparks or share toys, and must adhere to social distancing guidelines, remaining at least two metres (6.5 feet) from other people.

Schools remain closed.

"To tell you the truth, for me the time flew, it didn't feel long at all. We played a lot, we aren't missing anything, thank God, so we can't complain," said Tamara Romero, who took her two sons out on their scooters on Sunday morning.

The Health Ministry said on Sunday that 288 more people had died after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, the lowest daily rise in the death toll in the past month and down on Saturday's 378 and Friday's 367.

That brought the total number of deaths to 23,190, while the overall number of cases rose to 207,634. Spain has registered the third highest number of COVID-19 deaths, after the United States and Italy.

The Health Ministry changed the methodology on Friday for logging cases. It will no longer count antibody tests and will only include positive results from PCR tests, which detect the presence of an active virus.

'NO NEW WAVES'

Emergency health chief Fernando Simon detailed the health ministry's recommendations for a gradual easing of measures, saying the country must ensure the health system can respond if there is another outbreak.

Spain needs to guard against "new waves" of the illness, he told a news conference, adding the aim is a gradual return to normal. But "it will not be the same normality that we knew a year ago", he said.

A ministry document recommends that regions double their intensive care capacity to cope with possible increases in cases as lockdown measures are eased.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was meeting by teleconference with regional heads on Sunday to discuss the plans.

In a televised address on Saturday night, Mr Sanchez said the lockdown would be further eased, allowing people out to exercise alone from May 2 - if the coronavirus toll continues to fall. People living together will be permitted to take short walks together.

Mr Sanchez also laid out a wider government plan to loosen the lockdown at different speeds across different regions depending on whether they meet with criteria established by the World Health Organisation. (Reuters)