Europe easing lockdown as virus hopes rise
Countries elsewhere are also relaxing some coronavirus measures AFP, May 3 Europe on Sunday prepared for a further cautious easing of coronavirus restrictions following signs the pandemic may be slowing, after Spaniards flocked to the streets to jog, cycle and rollerskate for the first time after 48 days of confinement. More than 242,000 people have been killed and 3.4 million infected worldwide by the virus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.
With signs that the spread of the contagion has been brought under control, parts of Europe and the United States have begun to lift restrictions to try to inject life into economies crippled by weeks of closures and ease the pressure from populations wearying of captivity. After a two-month lockdown in Italy -- with the second-highest number of virus deaths in the world -- people on Monday will be allowed to stroll in parks and visit relatives. Restaurants can open for takeaway and wholesale stores can resume business.
In Hungary, some stores and museums, outdoor spaces of restaurants and hotels, beaches and baths can reopen from Monday -- but restrictions will remain in the capital Budapest, which has recorded about 70 percent of the country's cases. Germany will also continue its easing at the start of the week, with schools in some areas expected to reopen, while Slovenia and Poland will allow some businesses and public spaces to operate again.
France has said it will partially lift its lockdown on May 11. But with health experts warning the disease could hit hard once again, they are sticking to social distancing measures, the use of masks and more testing to try to track infections. Despite the lingering concerns, there was joy and relief in Spain on Saturday, where people were allowed to exercise and walk freely after the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country with one of the highest number of deaths at more than 25,000.
"After so many weeks in confinement I badly wanted to go out, run, see the world," said financial advisor Marcos Abeytua in Madrid. "Yesterday I was like a child on Christmas Eve." Across the Atlantic, the pressure to ease virus measures is intense on leaders in the United States, where the economy has been hammered with tens of millions left jobless and anti-lockdown protests erupting in many areas.
Crowds of demonstrators, some armed, denounced the lockdowns in New Hampshire and Kentucky, while at California's Huntington Beach, some surfers defied orders to stay away from the shore. The United States has the most coronavirus deaths in the world and President Donald Trump is keen for a turnaround to help reduce the economic pain.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett was optimistic, saying Saturday he's confident the American economy will bounce back because "American magic has always prevailed" -- though it is far from certain if that recovery will come in time to help Trump win reelection in November.
In addition to Europe, countries elsewhere are also relaxing some coronavirus measures. Singapore has announced it would gradually ease some of its restrictions, while Turkey on Saturday said it would lift curbs on the export of medical supplies. Thailand allowed businesses such as restaurants, hair salons and outdoor markets to reopen Sunday so long as social distancing was maintained and temperature checks carried out.
But experts have warned that some countries are still in the first stages of their outbreaks and things could get worse there. In a sign of the pandemic's emotional toll, families of coronavirus victims in the Philippines are being denied traditional death rites in favour of hurried, impersonal cremations, with virus restrictions often meaning they cannot take a last look at their loved ones.