COPENHAGEN - Restaurants and cafes began reopening in parts of Europe and Central Asia on Monday after weeks of closures, eager to again welcome hungry patrons albeit under strict regulations, as schools also reopened in some countries.
"Today, with the opening of the bars, life in Tirana is taking a breath of fresh air after being locked up in our cages for several weeks," said Sokol Hoti, a young man in his thirties sitting on the terrace of the Santa bar in the center of the Albanian capital.
Under new regulations designed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, restaurants and bars in the country are supplying hand sanitizer, employees wear gloves and masks, and customers are limited to two per table, which in turn must be spaced three meters apart.
Elsewhere in Europe, restaurants and cafes were cautiously opening, with customers seeming reluctant.
In Rome, at Piazza Navona in the city's historical center, all cafes remained closed, save one with a sign posted outside announcing "Good Morning, Welcome for Breakfast" written in English.
Tables were lined up but diners were nowhere in sight.
A few steps away, at the San Eustachio Il Caffe, a favorite of tourists, owner Raimondo Ricci lamented the lack of clients.
"There's no one here. Closed or open, it's the same thing," Ricci told AFP.
Meanwhile, at French bistro L'education nationale in Denmark's capital Copenhagen, Eric Poezevara had filled his fridges and was impatient to welcome back lunch clients outdoors on a terrace as well as indoors.
"The ambiance is going to be a little strange. People go to restaurants to enjoy themselves, but now, people are going to be a little tense, looking around and thinking 'Do you have corona, or don't you?," he said prior to Monday's lunch rush.
The restaurant can welcome only half as many guests as usual, in order to respect social distancing rules.
"We'll see if it's worth it," Poezevara said.
Under new rules, Danish restaurants must respect social distancing regulations, offer guests hand sanitizer, and pay particular attention to hygiene.
'Been looking forward to it'
Meanwhile, Cecilia, a 41-year-old yoga teacher, enjoyed a cup of coffee on the terrace of a popular spot in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Norrebro.
"I've been looking forward to just seeing people relaxing in the streets, not hustling around ... that sense of people just hanging out," she told AFP.
Many Danish restaurants have said they will stay closed a while longer in order to adapt their reopening to the new regulations.
In Spain, excluding Madrid and Barcelona, and Portugal, cafes and terraces also opened up as the countries continued easing restrictions.
In Kazakhstan's capital Nur-Sultan, patrons were having their temperatures checked at restaurant entrances as waiters donned masks and gloves to serve meals and drinks.
Restaurants opened across Kazakhstan with the exception of Almaty -- the country's largest city and leader in coronavirus cases.
In Azerbaijan, restaurants and cafes also reopened but remained largely deserted, according to an AFP reporter.
Natik Aliyev, a cafe manager in central Baku, told AFP that four hours after opening, he had only had two customers.
"People are still scared and avoid public spaces," Aliyev said.
Meanwhile, students were also returning to classrooms in greater numbers in Denmark, Greece, Belgium and Portugal on Monday.
© Agence France-Presse