The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed 4 million as some of the hardest hit countries prepared on Sunday to lift the blocking restrictions, despite concerns over a second wave of infections.
Governments around the world are trying to stop the spread of the disease while looking for ways to ease the pressure on their economies, which are facing a historic downturn with millions of people pushed into unemployment.
But with the death toll already exceeding 277,000 people, countries want to avoid further waves of infections that could overwhelm their health systems, with a new cluster of cases in South Korea raising concerns that the virus may re-emerge quickly.
In the midst of the deluge of deaths, some European countries cited signs of progress which, in their view, justified prudent measures towards a sense of normalcy.
French officials said Saturday that the daily death toll of 80 was the lowest since early April, while deaths in nursing homes also fell sharply as the nation prepared to loosen restrictions on the public traffic imposed eight weeks ago.
The easing, due to start on Monday, has received mixed reactions.
“I was very scared” about the reopening, said Maya Flandin, manager of a bookstore in Lyon. “It is a big responsibility to have to protect my staff and my customers. “
French health officials have warned that “the epidemic remains active and evolving,” and that social isolation must be maintained even if restrictions are relaxed.
In Spain, about half of the population will be allowed out on Monday for limited socialization, and restaurants will be able to offer outdoor services as the country begins a gradual transition that will last until June.
Fears persisted, however, and authorities excluded Madrid and Barcelona – two COVID-19 hotspots – from the first phase.
Belgium is also easing restrictions on Monday, and in parts of Germany bars and restaurants reopened on Saturday with further easing scheduled for Monday.
Overall, the situation in Europe is still far from normal.
Britain plans to announce Sunday that all visitors abroad will be subject to a mandatory two-week quarantine, and the European Union has warned against opening borders to travelers from outside the bloc .
Across Europe, commemorations marking 75 years since the surrender of Nazi Germany have been canceled or reduced.
And the election of Poland on Sunday will be one of the history books as the polling stations remain closed and the turnout will reach zero due to a political crisis triggered by the pandemic – the presidential election is not formally neither postponed nor canceled because the government and the opposition could not agree on a constitutional and secure solution.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, closed all bars and clubs on Saturday after a flurry of cases was located in one of the busiest areas of the city.
As the country eased virus restrictions, officials warned of neglect after the new cluster of infections, stressing the challenge of containing the spread of the deadly disease while pursuing economic recovery.
Global economic figures point to the sharpest slowdown in nearly a century, with companies forced to close and supply lines severely disrupted, and pressure on leaders around the world is mounting to find a way out.
In the United States, the country with the highest death rate in the world, President Donald Trump was strongly criticized by his predecessor Barack Obama, who declared on a leaked tape that Trump’s handling of the crisis was a ” totally chaotic disaster. “
Faced with his re-election in November, Trump insisted that next year would be “phenomenal” for the US economy, urging reopening in a country where the virus continues to kill more than 1,000 people every day.
The United States lost 20.5 million unprecedented jobs in April, bringing unemployment down to 14.7% – the highest level since the Great Depression.
“Life costs money”
Health experts have warned that while case growth may slow in some European and Asian countries, other countries – many of them impoverished – are only in the early stages of their outbreaks.
Many in Iran, the epicenter of the Middle East virus, were taking advantage of relaxed restrictions despite fears of an outbreak.
“Life costs money,” said Hamed, a 22-year-old boy on the streets of the capital Tehran without a mask. “People have to go to work because this virus has been with us for about three months now. “
And in neighboring Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country, the government ended the foreclosure on Saturday and residents rushed to markets and shops despite still high infection rates.
Tehmina Sattar, shopping with her sister and sons in Rawalpindi, said: “We are happy with this decision, but at the same time I am afraid in my heart that if this disease spreads it could be devastating. “
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