Europe emerges from lockdown as global Covid-19 cases hit 3.5m

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 00:00 |
People ride bicycles in central Milan as Italy started to ease its lockdown. Other European nations are cautiously lifting restrictions as virus infections and deaths fall. Photo/AFP

Rome, Monday

Millions of Europeans emerged with relief from Covid-19 confinement on Monday, with hard-hit Italy leading the way out of the world’s longest lockdown.

More than 3.5 million people are now known to have been infected, but US President Donald Trump offered hope for an end to the pandemic, saying he believed there would be a vaccine by year’s end. 

Around 248,000 people have died since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year and swept across the globe, given wings by the network of air routes that in normal times keep the world ticking.

As several nations begin relaxing their lockdowns following an initial peak in Covid-19 cases, attention is turning to how they can avoid a “second wave” of infections as social distancing is eased.

Italy—second only to the United States in its death toll and the first to impose a national lockdown—was gingerly emerging into the spring sunshine on Monday, with construction sites and factories resuming work.

Restaurants reopened for takeaway orders, but bars and ice cream parlours will remain shut. The use of public transport is being discouraged and everyone will have to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

“We are feeling a mix of joy and fear,” 40-year-old Stefano Milano said in Rome.

Italy reported its lowest death toll on Sunday since the first day of the lockdown on March 9 with 174 fatalities, compared with 969 at the peak. In all, 28,884 people have died in Italy.

Many other European countries are also relaxing lockdowns, even as they continue to advocate social distancing, masks and more testing to try to track infections.

Spain made face masks mandatory on public transport starting Monday, two days after finally allowing people out to exercise freely after a 48-day lockdown.

“There are more people with masks, before I didn’t see people with them but today, yes,” said Cristina Jimenez, 31, as she left a Madrid metro station wearing a mask.

Reopen business

Neighbouring Portugal allowed small shops, hair salons and car dealers to resume business from Monday, but ordered face masks to be worn in stores and on public transport.

Slovenia, Poland and Hungary joined Germany in allowing public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.

The pressure to reopen business is also being felt across the Atlantic, where the previously booming US economy was supposed to be the centrepiece of Trump’s November re-election bid.

But weeks of lockdown have left 30 million Americans out of work and businesses in trouble, with US clothing retailer J. Crew filing for bankruptcy on Monday.

With his poll numbers sagging, Trump has increasingly taken to blaming China for the outbreak, and says there is proof it started in a Chinese laboratory.  

The disease continues its march in some places. Russia is rapidly becoming Europe’s blackspot, with officials in Moscow urging residents to stay home in an effort to tamp down the growing daily tally of new cases. “The threat is apparently on the rise,” Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.-AFP

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