Spaniards flock outdoors as European countries ease lockdowns
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by Laurence Boutreux with AFP bureaus
Spaniards took to the streets to jog, cycle and rollerskate for the first time following 48 days of confinement on Saturday as some European nations cautiously eased coronavirus lockdowns while Russia reported a sudden surge of infections.
As governments weigh lifting restrictions to restart economies, US authorities brought some hope by approving an experimental drug for use on coronavirus patients.
The decision was the latest step in a global push to find treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the world economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The virus has now killed more than 242,000 people worldwide, according to an AFP tally of official figures, and infected 3.4 million since it first emerged in China late last year.
With signs the pandemic is slowing in the hardest-hit nations, European countries and some parts of the US have begun to lift restrictions to try to inject life into economies crippled by weeks of closure.
From Madrid to Mallorca, Spaniards flocked to the streets as they were allowed to exercise and walk freely outside after the government eased seven weeks of strict lockdown in a country with one of the highest number of fatalities 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.”
Near the city’s Retiro park, residents were out running, sometimes in groups. Crowds of joggers mingled with cyclists and skateboarders in Barcelona’s seaside neighbourhood.
Spain, Germany, Austria and Scandinavian nations are gradually easing lockdowns as virus cases slow though they will keep social distancing measures, the use of masks and testing to try to track infections.
France, which will lift parts of its lockdown on May 11, on Saturday extended a health emergency by two months until late July as it reported 166 new deaths, its lowest single-day toll in more than five weeks.
“We are going to have to perform a long-distance run,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said.
After a two-month shutdown, Italians on Monday will be allowed to stroll in parks and visit relatives. Restaurants can open for takeaway and wholesale stores can resume business.
“We must maintain social distancing, maximum hygiene levels, and masks. We’ve done our bit to the best of our ability. From Monday, it’s up to you,” emergency response official Domenico Arcuri said.
Italy — with the second most fatalities after the United States — reported Saturday that its daily death toll had jumped by 474, the highest in nearly two weeks.
Italian media said the total included 282 previously unaccounted deaths outside hospitals.
But in Russia, authorities reported the largest spike in their coronavirus cases with new infections rising by nearly 10,000 in a single day.
In Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s outbreak, around two percent of the population is infected by COVID-19, officials said.
“The threat is apparently on the rise,” said Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in his first detailed comments about his bout of coronavirus, said doctors were prepared to announce his death last month after he was taken to intensive care.
“It was a tough old moment, I won’t deny it,” he was quoted as saying by the Sun on Sunday newspaper. “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘death of Stalin’-type scenario. (AFP)