Deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and the severe strain the disease has placed on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is undoubtedly much greater.
Europe’s longest lockdown starts to ease
Italy, the first European country hit by the pandemic and a nation with one of the world’s highest death tolls, began opening up cautiously after its two-month shutdown. The number of people currently positive for coronavirus in the country has dropped under 100,000.
In all, 4.4 million Italians were able to return to work, and restrictions on movement eased.
Traffic in downtown Rome picked up, construction sites and manufacturing operations resumed, parks reopened and flower vendors returned to the Campo dei Fiori market for the first time since March 11.
“It’s something that brings happiness and joy, and people have been missing that these days,” vendor Stefano Fulvi said. He doesn’t expect to break even anytime soon, “but you have to take the risk at some point.”
But Europeans’ new-found freedoms are limited as officials are wary of setting off a second wave of infections.
In Italy, mourners were able to attend funerals, but services were limited to 15 people and there was still no word on when Masses will resume. Restaurants scrubbed their floors in preparation for take-out service, but sit-down service was several weeks away.
“It’s a new page that we must write together, with trust and responsibility,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said in a message to Italians.
Locals venture outside in Spain
People in hard-hit Spain ventured out for the first time in weeks for haircuts or food take-outs, but many small shops were still closed as owners worked on meeting strict health and hygiene guidelines. There was limited easing on quarantine regulations on businesses in Portugal and Belgium.
The Spanish government is turning up pressure on opposition parties to approve another extension of the country’s state of emergency. The government says a failure to do so could “bring chaos.”
Transport and Mobility Minister José Luis Ábalos anticipates a tough debate in parliament on the issue Wednesday. He says the measure is “the most effective legal instrument” to fight the new coronavirus because it grants authorities the exceptional power to restrict freedom of movement.
Ábalos says that without it all the sacrifices made so far will have been “pointless.”
World leaders, organisations and banks on Monday pledged to give 7.4 billion euros ($12.5 billion) during a videoconference summit hosted by the European Union. The US, along with Russia, were notably absent from the event.
Macron, who donated 500 million euros on behalf of France, noted that the US “are on the sidelines” but added that it doesn’t compromise or slow down the initiative.
Germany’s health minister said there are “promising” developments but warned that developing vaccines is one of the biggest challenges in medicine.
“I would be glad if we succeeded in a few months, but I think we must remain realistic,” Jens Spahn told ARD television on Sunday. “It can also take years.”
Stuttering starts for economies around the globe
On Europe’s western edge, Iceland reopened many of its businesses after the country tamed its virus outbreak.
India allowed some economic activities to resume after a five-week halt, even as the pace of infections has slightly accelerated. The lockdown has achieved a slowdown in the spread of the virus but has caused immense hardship for India’s poor.
An estimated 1.5 million South Africans returned to work after a five-week lockdown. The mining, manufacturing and select retail sectors began reopening with up to 30 per cent of their workforce. Trains, buses and private minibus taxis resumed operations with reduced occupancy, and all South Africans must wear face masks in public.
Russia reported a steady rise in the number of infections, fuelling concerns the nation’s hospitals could be overwhelmed. Authorities say that broader testing has contributed to a surge. Russia’s economy has been partially shut since late March, and lockdown measures have been extended through May 11.
US stocks rally after early dip
Stock indexes were down slightly in afternoon trading on Wall Street Monday, as the market took a pause following its best month in decades.
Airline stocks had some of the market’s sharpest losses after famed investor Warren Buffett said he’d dumped all his shares in the four biggest US carriers.
A ramping up of tensions between the Trump administration and China over the origins and handling of the coronavirus pandemic also weighed on markets around the world.
But big tech stocks, whose momentum has been nearly unstoppable in recent years, continued to rally and helped the market trim its early losses.
Virus decisions on partisan lines in America
In Washington, the Senate was convening on Monday local time for the first time since March. Political battles have become increasingly embedded in coronavirus policy in the United States.
In Louisiana, Republican legislators irritated by Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend Louisiana’s stay-at-home order through May 15 were eager to return to work.
But Democrats saw things differently: “It could be a devastating blow to the strides made and to the safety of our residents, our staff and members if we returned to business as usual prematurely,” Democratic leaders wrote in a letter.
California’s state Assembly was also restarting its legislative session Monday, though the Senate isn’t bringing members back until May 11.
California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said members must be at the Capitol to participate in committee hearings and floor sessions, based on legal advice that votes taken remotely “would likely be challenged in the courts and thrown out.”
He said anyone who didn’t feel comfortable coming is “encouraged to stay home. We are definitely not forcing anybody to come to work.”
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