Europe emerges from lockdown as global virus cases top 3.5m

Foreign Desk Report

LONDON: Millions of Europeans emerged with relief from coronavirus confinement on Monday, with hard-hit Italy leading the way out of the world’s longest lockdown. At least 3.5 million people are now known to have been infected, but US President Donald Trump offered hope for an end to the pandemic, saying he believed there would be a vaccine by year’s end.
Around 248,000 people have died since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year and swept across the globe, given wings by the network of air routes that in normal times keep the modern world ticking.
Lockdowns imposed on half of the planet have derailed economies, and politicians are now grappling with how to get the wheels turning again without sparking a second wave of infections. Italy second only to the United States in its COVID-19 death toll and the first to impose a national lockdown — was gingerly emerging into the spring sunshine on Monday, with construction sites and factories resuming work.
Restaurants reopened for takeaway orders, but bars and ice cream parlours will remain shut. The use of public transport is being discouraged and everyone will have to wear masks in indoor public spaces. “We are feeling a mix of joy and fear,” 40-year-old Stefano Milano said in Rome. “There will be great happiness in being able to go running again carefree, in my son being allowed to have his little cousin over to blow out his birthday candles, to see our parents,” the father-of-three said. Italy reported its lowest death toll on Sunday since the first day of the lockdown on March 9 with 174 fatalities, compared with 969 at the peak. In all, 28,884 people have died in Italy.
Many other European countries are also relaxing lockdowns, even as they continue to advocate social distancing, masks and more testing to try to track infections. Spain made face masks mandatory on public transport starting Monday, two days after finally allowing people out to exercise freely after a 48-day lockdown. “There are more people with masks, before I didn’t see people with them but today, yes,” said Cristina Jimenez, 31, as she left a Madrid metro station wearing a mask and gloves.
Neighbouring Portugal allowed small shops, hair salons and car dealers to resume business from Monday, but ordered face masks to be worn in stores and on public transport. Slovenia, Poland and Hungary joined Germany in allowing public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.