Japan, Europe ease restrictions as global coronavirus cases cross 5.5m
MADRID: Europeans returned to a new normal and headed to parks, gyms and pools on Monday as more countries eased coronavirus restrictions, while Japan lifted its state of emergency but urged citizens to avoid second wave of infections.
In the United States, as the pandemic death toll approached the horrific milestone of 100,000, stir-crazy Americans also headed en masse to beaches and parks for the big Memorial Day weekend.
While many Americans wore masks and followed distancing rules, many did not — and images of packed pools and boardwalks triggered fears of a new flare up of the virus that has infected more than 5.5 million worldwide and killed more than 346,000, according to an AFP tally.
With the global economy battered, governments are scrambling to provide relief to businesses and citizens wearying of mass confinement.
In hard-hit Spain, Madrid and Barcelona cautiously emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with parks and cafe terraces open for the first time in more than two months.
Hundreds of people flooded Madrid’s famous Retiro Park to enjoy a stroll or a jog in the sunshine.
“The reopening of Retiro brings me a feeling of serenity, gives me comfort,” said Rosa San Jose, a 50-year-old schoolteacher.
In other parts of Spain, beaches reopened with strict guidelines for social distancing.
The Spanish government also announced that it would scrap quarantine for foreign arrivals from July 1, in the hope of helping the battered tourism sector.
‘Break the isolation’
As gyms and swimming pools reopened in Germany, Iceland, Italy and Spain, slowing infection rates in Greece allowed restaurants to resume business a week ahead of schedule — but only for outdoor service.
“I’m thrilled to break the isolation of recent months and reconnect with friends,” said pensioner Giorgos Karavatsanis.
“The cafe in Greece has a social dimension, it’s where the heart of the district beats.”
But not all the news from Europe was encouraging.
Sweden, which has gained international attention for not enforcing stay-at-home measures, saw its COVID-19 death toll pass 4,000, a much higher figure than its neighbours.
And in Britain, a political scandal raged on as Prime Minister Boris Johnson defied pressure to sack his top aide Dominic Cummings, accused of breaching the government’s own lockdown rules in March and April.
As Johnson separately announced the government will allow non-essential retail stores to reopen June 15, thousands of sun worshippers swarmed a beach — in the southern resort town of Bournemouth — underscoring the difficulty of enforcing social distancing rules in the summer months. – AFP