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Europe prepares for more lockdown easing as Spain records lowest daily death toll in seven weeks

Despite the reopenings, experts have cautioned that many countries are still not through the worst of their outbreaks yet.

Mounted police patrol on horses as people exercise on a seafront promenade in Barcelona today.
Mounted police patrol on horses as people exercise on a seafront promenade in Barcelona today.
Image: Emilio Morenatti/AP/Press Association Images

EUROPE IS PREPARING for a further cautious easing of coronavirus restrictions following signs the pandemic may be slowing, with hard-hit Italy set to follow Spain in allowing people outside.

More than 243,000 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, Asia 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 confinement.

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.

However, Italian authorities have stressed that preventative measures are still needed.

virus-outbreak-italy A view of Piazza Navona Square, Sunday, May 3, 2020. Source: Alessandra Tarantino/PA

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany will continue its easing on Monday, while Slovenia, Poland and Hungary will allow public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.

With health experts warning the disease could hit hard once again, governments are sticking to measures to control the spread of the virus and more testing to try to track infections even as they relax curbs on movement.

Face masks will be mandatory on public transport starting Monday in Spain, where people were allowed to go outdoors on Saturday after a 48-day lockdown. 

Spain today counted another 164 coronavirus deaths, the lowest daily number in nearly seven weeks as the country begins to gradually lift its strict lockdown.

The figures from the health ministry bring the total number of fatalities from the pandemic in Spain to 25,264 – the fourth-highest after the United States, Italy and Britain.

It is the lowest daily increase since 18 March when 107 deaths were recorded but the ministry’s emergencies coordinator, Fernando Simon, said the figure had to be interpreted with “caution” as it comes on a long holiday weekend when reporting of fatalities by hospitals is usually slower.

“The figures are very good and confirm the trend we have observed. We have to see if they are consolidated in the coming days,” he told a news conference.

virus-outbreak-spain A woman enjoys the sun at the Toledo bridge in Madrid, Spain today. On Saturday, Spaniards were able to go outdoors to do exercise for the first time in seven weeks Source: AP/PA Images

Confirmed cases of the virus rose by just 838 to 217,466, although the government recently began counting in its total only patients who test positive using a technique known as PCR.

It was the tenth straight day that the number of cured, at 1,654, surpassed new infections.

Health experts believe Spain’s outbreak peaked on 2 April when 950 people died over 24 hours. Since then, the toll has been gradually dropping.

Spain’s nearly 47 million people have since March 14 lived under one of the strictest virus lockdowns in the world, with only adults authorised to leave home to buy food, medicine or walk the dog.

But Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday unveiled a plan to gradually begin easing the restrictions in four phases that should be completed by the end of June.

Lockdowns ease in Asia 

With pressure growing on governments worldwide to balance public health requirements with the need to ease intense economic pain, some nations in Asia announced similar measures.

South Korea – once the second worst-hit nation on the planet -  said Sunday it would ease a ban on some gatherings and events as long as they “follow disinfection measures”.

Thailand meanwhile allowed businesses such as restaurants, hair salons and outdoor markets to reopen today so long as social distancing was maintained and temperature checks carried out.

daily-life-in-bangkok-amid-coronavirus-crisis-03-may-2020 A man gets a haircut at a barbershop in Bangkok. The Thai government announced that some businesses such as barber shops, outdoor markets, restaurants and golf courses could open from today. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Despite the reopenings, experts have cautioned that many countries are still not through the worst of their outbreaks yet.

In the latest sign that the pandemic remains a serious threat, the Philippines suspended all flights into and out of the country for a week starting today in a bid to ease the pressure on its congested quarantine facilities.

And to boost morale in what many expect to be a long fight, the armed forces of India – where the world’s biggest lockdown is in force – organised tributes to the nation’s medical workers, including helicopters showering petals on hospitals.

Elsewhere, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that mosques would reopen across large parts of the Islamic Republic, after they were closed in early March to try to contain the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.

Rouhani warned, however, that while Iran would reopen “calmly and gradually”, it should also prepare for “bad scenarios”. 

‘Beyond breaking point’

Across the Pacific, 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.

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.

Florida is set to ease its lockdown tomorrow, as authorities in other states wrestle with pressure from demonstrators – some armed – who have protested against the lockdowns.

There are signs that the pandemic is slowing down in some parts of the United States.

life-in-new-york-affected-by-covid-19-pandemic An MTA employee cleans up subway car at the last station of A train in New York City. Source: Lev Radin/Zuma Press/PA Images

In New York City, the epicentre of the US outbreak, an emergency field hospital erected in Central Park is set to close, the Christian charity running it said Saturday, as virus cases decline in the city.

But authorities are wary of letting their guard down too fast, with fears the virus could wreak havoc in the most vulnerable communities in the United States.

A massive wave of infections is sweeping through America’s prison population – the world’s largest at 2.3 million – with coronavirus deaths on the rise in jails and penitentiaries across the country.

Riots over inadequate protection and slow responses by authorities have already taken place in prisons in Washington state and Kansas.

“Things are beyond breaking point at this facility,” said Brian Miller, an officer at the Marion prison in Ohio. “Right now it’s hell.”

© AFP 2020

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