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Restaurants, bars and churches reopen in Italy with Saint Peter's Basilica even taking visitors again

Churches in Rome were shuttered at the beginning of the coronavirus emergency.

St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.
St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.
Image: Andrew Medichini/PA Images

RESTAURANTS AND CHURCHES will reopen in Italy as part of a fresh wave of lockdown easing in Europe, but rising coronavirus death tolls in Brazil, South Africa and other parts of the world showed the worst is still to come in many countries.

The relaxation of curbs in some places comes as governments around the world struggle to repair the vast economic damage unleashed by the pandemic, with Japan the latest to slump into a recession.

The World Health Organization has warned that reopening too quickly without a vaccine could trigger a second devastating wave of infections, and the body will host a virtual global health assembly this week to help chart a course out of the crisis.

Once the worst-hit country in the world, Italy will take its latest step in a cautious, gradual return to normality, allowing businesses and churches to reopen after a two-month lockdown.

Saint Peter’s Basilica also throws its doors open to visitors today.

In the face of much opposition, including from Pope Francis, churches in Rome were shuttered at the beginning of the coronavirus emergency in early March.

Most, however, opened shortly thereafter, with entry reserved for prayer only.

“I share the joy of those communities who can finally reunite as liturgical assemblies, a sign of hope for all society,” Pope Francis said yesterday during his live-streamed prayer.

The Argentine pontiff is not yet expected to lead any public religious ceremonies in the basilica, which can accommodate 60,000 people, or in Saint Peter’s Square, as the Vatican seeks to avoid crowds.

The Vatican, an independent enclave in the heart of Rome, has applied the same anti-virus measures as Italy, which imposed strict lockdowns after a dizzying rise in Covid-19 deaths and infections that overwhelmed hospitals.

Businesses including restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, and stores will also be allowed to re-open on Monday. Gyms, pools, cinemas and theatres are allowed to open on 25 May.

Spain is also set to further ease its lockdown measures, while Germany has already taken several steps towards a reopening, including the resumption of its top football league — but with empty stadiums.

There was other welcome relief for Europeans on the weekend too, with people enjoying beaches in France, Greece and Italy, and Britons going to parks to bask in the sun.

Measures remain

Despite the optimism in some parts of the world, the deadly pandemic remains on the march having claimed more than 315,000 lives, with worrying data from South America and Africa offering a reminder of the severity of the crisis.

Deaths in Brazil have risen sharply in recent days, and with more than 241,000 infections reached over the weekend, South America’s largest country now has the fourth-highest caseload in the world.

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But President Jair Bolsonaro has been a staunch opponent of lockdowns, claiming they have unnecessarily hurt the Brazilian economy, but experts and regional leaders have warned that the healthcare infrastructure could collapse.

The far-right leader alongside several ministers greeted hundreds of his supporters in the capital Brasilia on Sunday in defiance of social distancing measures, telling the crowd that the virus restrictions were too much.

Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded more than half a million infections, with almost half of them from Brazil, and there is growing alarm about the impact of the virus on the least privileged in the region.

There was also grim data in Africa, where the number of infections rose rapidly.

South Africa on Sunday reported 1,160 new coronavirus infections, the highest daily number since the first case was recorded in March, taking the total to 15,515 — the highest on the continent.

In Asia, India extended its lockdown — the world’s biggest — to the end of May as it yesterday reported its biggest single-day jump in infections.

© – AFP 2020

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