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Beaches, parks busy as Europe heat wave and U.S. spring test new coronavirus rules

Lisa Shumaker

By Lisa Shumaker

May 17 (Reuters) - Summer weather is enticing much of the world to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns as centers of the outbreak from New York to Italy and Spain gradually lift restrictions that have kept millions indoors for months.

People are streaming back to beaches, parks and streets just as a heat wave hits southern Europe and spring-like temperatures allow Americans to shed winter coats. As they venture out again, most are keeping their distance and some are wearing masks. However, protests are also heating up from Germany to England to the United States, arguing the government restrictions demolish personal liberties and are wrecking economies.

Greeks flocked to the seaside on Saturday when more than 500 beaches reopened, coinciding with temperatures of 34 Celsius (93 Fahrenheit).

Umbrella poles had to be 4 meters (13 ft) apart, with canopies no closer than 1 meter as the country sought to walk the fine line between protecting people from COVID-19 while reviving the tourism sector that many depend on for their livelihoods.

"This is the best thing for us elderly ... to come and relax a bit after being locked in," Yannis Tentomas, who is in his 70s, said as he settled down on the sand.

White circles were painted on the lawn in Brooklyn's Domino Park in New York City to help sunbathers and picnickers keep a safe distance.

About half the people in the park appeared to be wearing some form of face covering as they congregated in small groups on a warm Saturday afternoon with New York police officers in masks keeping watch.

New York, New Jersey and other states plan to reopen some beaches in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend later this month that unofficially marks the start of summer in the United States.

In Paris' Bois de Boulogne, health training worker Anne Chardon was carrying disinfectant gel and a mask but said that she felt a sense of freedom again for the first time after weeks of confinement.

"It's as if we were in Sleeping Beauty's castle, all asleep, all frozen, and suddenly there's light and space, suddenly we can experience again the little joys of everyday, in the spaces that belong to us, and that we're rediscovering."


'MAKE CORONA GO AWAY'

People also seemed mostly to be keeping their distance in photos of boys playing football in Virgiliano Park in Naples and bathers seeking relief from the heat in Tel Aviv on the beaches along the Mediterranean Sea.

"We hope that the hot water, weather, make corona go away," said Lilach Vardi, a woman who came to swim in the Dead Sea in Israel, as a lifeguard tried to fry an egg in a pan in the scorching sand nearby.

In Tunisia, which reported no new COVID-19 cases over four consecutive days last week, people flooded into the streets and to recently reopened shops with little social-distancing.

Muslims are nearing the Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the holy month of Ramadan, when many celebrate with new purchases.

"I stayed at home for two months and almost went crazy," said one woman at Tunis' Manar City Mall. "I'm surprised by the crowd but I need to buy clothes for my children for Eid."

But throughout the world, small pockets of protesters bristled at any restrictions.

Thousands of Germans took to the streets across the country on Saturday to demonstrate against restrictions imposed by the government.

In London's Hyde Park, police arrested 19 people on Saturday for deliberately breaking social distancing guidelines in protest at the rules, on the first weekend since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a slight loosening of England's lockdown.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus and Reuters TV; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis)