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Hundreds of thousands of non-essential workers returned to their jobs this week in Spain as the country partially lifted lockdown restrictions.

About 300,000 people who cannot work from home — including those in the construction and manufacturing industries — were allowed to return to work in and around Madrid on Monday, a spokesperson for the capital city’s regional government told CNN.

Shops, bars, restaurants and other businesses considered non-essential remain closed, according to the report.

Spain has reported more than 172,000 confirmed coronavirus cases — the highest count in Europe and the second-most affected country worldwide, next to the US, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

More than 18,000 deaths have been reported, second only to Italy.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said that the country will take “progressive” measures to return to normal life, emphasizing that the reopening will happen in phases, while officials enact hygiene measures and efforts to monitor for new cases.

“We can’t even know what kind of normality we’re returning to,” he said last week, according to CNN.

The lockdown loosening wasn’t well-received by Quim Torra, President of Catalonia, who said in a video statement that allowing people to return to work is “irresponsible and reckless.”

And Spain’s General Workers Union, with 940,000 members, raised concerns over employees’ safety and urged employers to provide personal protective equipment for their staff.

Authorities said over the weekend they would start handing out 10 million protective masks at metro stations and other transport hubs, and continued to call for social distancing and regular hand-washing.

The country’s central government has already distributed one million coronavirus testing kits nationwide, and five million more will soon be issued, according to the report.

“The climb has been difficult, the descent will also be,” Sanchez told parliament last week, while extending the country’s state of emergency to April 26.

He also said that restrictions may need to continue for a longer period.

Meanwhile in Italy, some businesses — including bookshops, dry cleaners and shops selling baby clothes — were allowed to reopen Tuesday under the government’s latest decree, The Local Italy reported. 

The decree replaces an earlier order under which only supermarkets, pharmacies and a select few other shops were allowed to stay open amid the country’s efforts to contain the deadly virus.

However, some regions of the country have said they’ll delay those reopenings until later.

All other quarantine requirements, including bans on public gatherings, and a required form to justify any trips outside, remain in place.

The new rules will be in effect until at least May 3, according to the report.

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