COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark plans to reopen day care centres and schools on April 15 as a first step to gradually relax a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, the country's prime minister said on Monday.
The Nordic country, which was one of the first in Europe to shut down, has seen the number of coronavirus-related hospitalisations and deaths stabilise over the past week.
It is now trying to balance the need to keep its population safe and the economic risks of a deep recession, tough decisions that many other governments around the world have lying ahead of them.
"This will probably be a bit like walking the tightrope. If we stand still along the way we could fall and if we go too fast it can go wrong. Therefore, we must take one cautious step at a time," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a media briefing.
Denmark on March 11 announced closure of schools, day cares, restaurants, cafes and gyms, and shut all borders to most foreigners.
Frederiksen day care centres and schools for children in first to fifth grade will reopen on April 15, which will allow parents to return to a normal workday.
All remaining restrictions including a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people would stay in place until at least May 10, while a ban on larger gatherings would remain in place until August.
Frederiksen cautioned that the gradual reopening would only happen if the numbers stay stable and she urged all Danes to stick to the government's guidelines on social distancing and hygiene.
The number of daily deaths slowed to seven on Sunday from 14 on Saturday and 18 on Friday, while the number of hospitalisations has fallen slightly over the past week. Denmark has reported 187 coronavirus-related deaths and total of 4,681 infected.
"If we open Denmark too quickly again we risk that infections rise too sharply and then we have to close down again," Frederiksen said.
Denmark is the second country in Europe to provide dates and details on a gradual reopening of its coronavirus lockdown after Austria earlier on Monday said it was preparing for a "resurrection" the day after Easter by reopening some shops.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Grant McCool)