Coronavirus: Millions of French to emerge from lockdown

Germany records lowest number of new infections in six days with global deaths at 282,000

A French hairdresser opened his salon at midnight to offer desperate clients a trim at the earliest possible opportunity as France started lifting an almost two-month-old coronavirus lockdown. Video: Reuters

 

More than 4.1 million people have been infected by coronavirus, and more than 282,000 have died, according to figures provided by Johns Hopkins University.

Here is the latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the world:

FRANCE

Millions of French people are set to cautiously emerge from one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns on Monday, once more able to engage in everyday activities that have become unexpectedly precious, such as visiting shops and getting their hair cut.

France follows neighbouring Germany in pressing ahead wit h the easing of restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19.

France, whose official death toll is the world’s fifth highest, had enforced an eight-week lockdown, since March 17th, to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, with residents only allowed out for essential shopping, work and exercise.

Shops and hair salons can now reopen, while people can venture out without a government-mandated form, except for trips of more than 100km (62 miles), which are only allowed for professional reasons, funerals or caring for the sick.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government decided to lift the lockdown after the number of patients in intensive care - a key measure of hospitals’ ability to cope with the epidemic - fell to less than half the peak of over 7,000 seen in early April.

Another encouraging indicator has been a prolonged decline in the number of daily deaths from coronavirus infections, which fell to 70 on Sunday, bringing the total to 26,380.

Ahead of Monday’s end to lockdown, many people were keen to enjoy life’s simple pleasures again, including getting a new hairstyle.

“No hairdressers? I’d rather go without food,” Danielle Gerard, a regular at a hair salon in the central Marais district in Paris told Reuters TV over the weekend.

But it’s certainly not business as usual.

The government has urged caution, with some regions including the Paris area remaining “red zones”, and subject to additional restrictions. People across the nations are also still advised to work from home if they are able to do so.

A few sporadic clusters of infections have emerged in recent days, including one in Dordogne where at least nine people were diagnosed with Covid-19 following a funeral in late April, and another one in a central France secondary school where four people were infected.

Kindergarten and primary schools are allowed to open on a voluntary basis on Monday, a day before 1.5 million out of a total 6.7 million primary school pupils will be able to return to classrooms on Tuesday.

Although France has managed to circumscribe the epidemic to a broad northeastern quarter of the country - including Paris - and its hospitals have been able to cope, the ongoing crisis will nonetheless leave long-lasting marks, as it will across the world.

The French, long accustomed to being told their high taxes paid for the best healthcare in the world, have been dismayed by the rationing of critical drugs, face masks and equipment. They have watched with envy as neighbouring Germany appears to have coped better with the coronavirus pandemic.

After initially enjoying a rebound in popularity, Mr Macron’s handling of the crisis has been criticised, with the government’s flip-flopping messages on when or even whether to wear face masks - which has been an issue in other countries too - fuelling mistrust.

Mr Macron’s popularity rating fell to 34 per cent in May, down 5 points from a month ago, according to a recent Elabe poll for Les Echos newspaper.

GERMANY

Germany recorded the lowest number of new infections in six days, as the country moves ahead with a broad easing of restrictions put in place to fight the disease.

There were 555 additional cases in the 24 hours through Monday morning, the third straight decline and lifting the total to 171,879, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Fatalities rose by 20 to 7,569.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a widespread lifting of national restrictions last Wednesday after talks with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states. Restaurants and shops are allowed to reopen, children will be returning to school in stages before the summer vacation and professional soccer matches will resume as soon as this weekend.

Social-distancing rules will stay in place until at least June 5th and curbs may be reinstated locally in the event of a resurgence in infections.

Ms Merkel has been cautious in her approach but has also come under pressure to speed up the country’s exit from the curbs that brought business activity in some sectors to a virtual standstill. There were protests across the country over the weekend, as some demanded a faster rollback of restrictions.

“The easing must take place gradually so that there isn’t a serious relapse in health protection,” economy minister Peter Altmaier told Funke Mediengruppe in an interview published Sunday. The government will examine which sectors might need further targeted help, such us gastronomy, trade fairs and concert organisers.

Germany’s so-called reproduction number, which captures additional cases directly generated by one infected person, remained above one over the weekend. The factor - known as R0 - is estimated at 1.13, according to the latest situation report from the country’s public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute, published Sunday evening.

R0 needs to be below 1 to contain the virus spread. While the estimate includes “a degree of uncertainty,” the RKI said the increase makes it necessary to “observe the development very closely over the coming days.”

SPAIN

Spain has reported the lowest numbers of coronavirus-related fatalities and infections in weeks, as half of the country steps into a softer version of the country’s strict lockdown.

There were 123 deaths in the past 24 hours, the lowest since March 17th, bringing the country’s total death toll to almost 27,000. With nearly 400 new Covid-19 cases confirmed by the most reliable laboratory tests, the overall number of recorded infections rose to about 268,000.

Top health official Fernando Simon said figures show “in a clear and evident way that we are in the last phase of virus transmission”, but has warned against complacency because the experience of other countries, including South Korea and Germany, shows the risks of sudden rebounds.

Although Madrid and Barcelona remain in a stricter lockdown, roughly half of 47 million Spaniards are allowed from Monday to socialise with up to 10 people at the same time, shop in small establishments and enjoy a meal or a coffee in restaurants and bars with outdoor seating. Hotels are also allowed to open as long as they do not mix guests in public areas.

RUSSIA

Russia has registered a fresh daily record high of new coronavirus cases.

The government’s task force in charge of combating the outbreak said the country has registered over 11,600 new infections in the last 24 hours, more than half of them in Moscow.

That has brought the nation’s total to more than 221,000 cases, including about 2,000 deaths.

Officials said the number of registered cases has grown as testing has widened, but they still represent a small share of the real number. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said last week that up to 2.5 per cent of the capital’s 12.7 million residents, or about 300,000 could have been infected.

Russia has been in partial economic shutdown since late March with only essential industries allowed to continue operating. Most regions have imposed lockdowns forcing the bulk of the population to stay at home.

TURKEY

Shopping centres, barber shops, hairdressers and beauty salons have reopened for business across Turkey for the first time in seven weeks as the country gradually eases restrictions aimed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The government has however, laid out strict requirements for the businesses. Shopping centres have to check customers’ temperatures at entry, limit the number of customers to at least one per every 10 square metres and ensure that everyone is wearing masks. Food courts, cinemas and children’s play areas will remain closed.

Service providers like hairdressers and barbers are required to work on an appointment basis only, wear face masks and transparent face protectors, and use disposable towels and other material.

Turkey has recorded nearly 140,000 confirmed cases of the virus and almost 3,800 deaths attributed to Covid-19.

NETHERLANDS

Dutch schools are welcoming back students who had been forced to stay at home for two months.

Schools, libraries and businesses such as hairdressers were allowed to reopen on Monday in the Netherlands on condition that they take measures to enforce social distancing.

Some hairdressers opened their doors at midnight to welcome customers desperate for a trim.

GREECE

Police in Greece have intervened to ease crowding outside offices of the country’s main power utility, which reopened on Monday.

Hundreds gathered outside the offices to pay their bills, worried that power would be cut off to their homes.

The state-controlled Public Power Corporation (PPC) is urging customers to use online payment methods or newly expanded call centre services, but many elderly customers still pay their bills directly in cash.

The utility is undergoing a major reorganisation after being threatened with financial collapse last year, largely due to bills left unpaid during the 2010-2018 financial crisis and austerity imposed during international bailouts.

PPC offices closed on March 23rd as part of broader lockdown measures.

CZECH REPUBLIC

The Czech Republic is taking a step to normality amid the coronavirus pandemic by easing more restrictions adopted by the government to contain it.

Shopping centres, hairdressers and beauty parlours are allowed to return to business on Monday under strict conditions. Theatres, exhibition halls and cinemas can reopen as well for a maximum of 100 people.

Outdoor seating of bars, restaurants and cafes can start to serve the first consumers since March 14th on Monday. Interiors still remain closed.

The government rules on social distancing and mandatory face masks in public remain in place.

BELGIUM

Belgium is taking a major step in relaxing its coronavirus lockdown by opening shops under strict conditions.

Even still, public transportation in the capital city of Brussels was hit by a strike because bus drivers did not feel safe under the current virus precautions.

Authorities on Sunday permitted people to start meeting with four close relatives or friends, allowing many families to celebrate a restricted Mother’s Day.

UKRAINE

Ukraine has started easing its coronavirus lockdown, allowing some shops, hairdressers, beauty parlours and other businesses to reopen.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the reopening is conditional on observing social distancing and other precautions.

Ukraine’s underfunded healthcare system has been quickly overwhelmed by Covid-19, even though it has reported a relatively low number of cases — about 15,000 infections and more than 400 deaths as of Monday.

Aware of the desperate situation in the healthcare system, authorities ordered a strict coronavirus lockdown on March 12th, complete with police patrols and t/ight restrictions on using public transportation.

The government has faced strong pressure to ease the quarantine that has badly bruised the nation’s economy. Doctors fear that relaxing the restrictions could trigger a new wave of contagion.

INDIA

India reported its biggest daily increase in cases as it prepares to gradually resume train services while easing its virus lockdown.

India’s train network was halted in late March as a lockdown was imposed on the country of 1.3 billion people.

When services restart on Tuesday, passengers must wear masks and pass health screenings before being allowed to board trains. The trains will make fewer stops than usual as services are gradually restarted.

The announcement comes after the government arranged for trains to transport thousands of migrant workers stranded in Indian cities back to their homes.

On Monday, India’s government reported 4,213 new cases of coronavirus infection over the past 24 hours. It now has more than 67,000 cases, which include 2,206 deaths.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to meet various state heads to discuss the country’s exit strategy from its 54-day lockdown, which is expected to end on May 17th

SWEDEN

A top Swedish official has said lessons should be learned from tackling the coronavirus pandemic and Sweden could maybe have acted “a little faster”.

Dan Eliasson, head of Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency, told Swedish radio that “when major crises occur, you will always look at it afterwards. So comes the question, did we react fast enough?”

His comments come after health minister Lena Hallengren last month told Swedish television that “we failed to protect our elderly. That’s really serious and a failure for society as a whole. We have to learn from this”.

Swedish media in recent weeks have reported cases where retirement homes have seen a large death toll, with staff continuing to work despite a lack of protective gear or despite exhibiting symptoms and potentially infecting residents. Some homes have also seen staff shortages because employees have either refused to work or have been encouraged to stay home even with mild symptoms.

The Scandinavian country has taken a relatively soft approach that has caught international attention. Large gatherings were banned but restaurants and schools for younger children have stayed open. The government has urged social distancing, and Swedes have largely complied.

The country has reported more than 3,175 fatalities and 90 per cent of those who had died as of April 28th were above the age of 70, according to official figures. Half were care home residents, and another quarter were receiving care at home. -Reuters/Bloomberg/PA