Spain eases strict lockdown as US approves virus drug

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by Laurence Boutreux with AFP bureaus

Spaniards were allowed out of their homes to exercise and walk freely after 48 days of confinement on Saturday as some European nations began cautiously easing virus lockdowns while others like Russia faced a spike in new infections.

As governments across the globe balance lifting restrictions to restart economies against the risk of new infections, US authorities brought some hope by approving an experimental drug for emergency use on coronavirus patients.

The measure was the latest step in a global push to find viable treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown, hammered the world economy and caused more than 3.3 million confirmed infections.

The virus has killed nearly 239,000 people since it emerged in China late last year.

With signs the pandemic in their hardest-hit nations is slowing, European countries and some parts of the US have begun to lift restrictions and to try to inject life into economies battered by weeks of closure.

In Madrid and Barcelona, Spaniards took to the streets to exercise and walk freely as the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country with one of the highest number of fatalities at nearly 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’s Chueca district who got up a 7am to enjoy some time outside. “Yesterday, I was like a child on Christmas Eve.”

In the city’s Retiro park, many residents were out to running, sometimes in groups, as a policeman used a loudspeaker to urge them to keep out of deserted avenue and on the pavement.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez however said masks would be obligatory on public transport from Monday.

Spain, Germany, Austria and Scandinavian nations are all slowly easing lockdowns as the virus cases slow though they will keep in place social distancing measures, demand the use of masks or increase testing to try to track infections.

France on Saturday decided it would extend a health emergency, in place since March 24, by two months until July 24, Health Minister Olivier Veran announced after a cabinet meeting.

Italy is preparing to ease restrictions in coming days while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent time in intensive care with the virus, said Britain had past the peak of its outbreak.

Ireland extended its lockdown by two weeks to May 18, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar saying the nation will reopen “in a slow, phased, staged way” after that.

In Russia, though, authorities reported the largest increase in coronavirus cases with the new infections rising by nearly 10,000 in a single day.

In Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, around 2 percent of the population is infected by COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, officials said.

“The threat is apparently on the rise,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, said on his blog earlier Saturday. (AFP)

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