Virus lockdowns begin to ease, cases top three million

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by Chris Lefkow with AFP bureaus

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide soared past three million on Monday as several European nations and a handful of US states began taking steps to reopen their shuttered economies.

But as schools and shops reopened in some parts of Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson emerged after his own battle with the virus to call for patience in the UK, saying it was too early to follow suit.

Around the world the pandemic has killed more than 209,000 people and infected more than three million, with the highest death toll — over 55,000 — in the United States, according to an AFP tally.

Well over half of all deaths are in Europe, with the toll hitting 126,233 on the continent Monday.

With some of Europe’s worst-hit nations reporting drops in daily death counts, governments are exploring how to relax confinement orders exacting their own damaging economic and psychological tolls.

Italy, the first European country to go into lockdown seven weeks ago, began allowing some construction and factory workers to go back to work on Monday.

Starting May 4, Italians will be able to exercise outdoors and visit relatives, but only if they respect social distancing and wear masks.

Restaurants can offer takeout and wholesale stores can resume business on the same day, with other shops following on May 18, along with museums and libraries.

‘Sacrifice’

In Spain, which began easing one of the world’s tightest coronavirus lockdowns on Sunday, people will be allowed out for exercise and to take walks from May 2.

Spain and France were to announce more detailed plans on Tuesday.

France’s lockdown, which started on March 17, will begin to be lifted on May 11, under plans to be unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Schools will reopen gradually. But the government has already said that restaurants, cafes and cinemas will remain closed for the time being and large public gatherings prohibited.

In Switzerland, Croatia and Serbia, many small shops were back in business on Monday, while children in Norway returned to primary school.

Hairdressers, florists, dentists and others went back to work in Switzerland in the first stage of a three-phase plan.

“I’m delighted that we’re starting up again. If we don’t work, things are dead,” hairdresser Anita Ayma said in Geneva.

With the UK starting to “turn the tide” of an outbreak that has killed more than 21,000, Johnson warned against any hasty moves.

Looking thinner and with his blond mane longer after his hospital stay, the 55-year-old said he could not “throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak.”

Responses varied elsewhere as leaders grapple with how to balance public safety with personal freedoms and economic relief.

In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari said the lockdown in the largest city Lagos and capital Abuja will be eased from May 4 but the wearing of facemasks will be mandatory.

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