INTERNATIONAL

Europe emerges from curbs, but Asia fears a second wave

Back on track:Passengers arriving at the Saint-Lazare Railway Station in Paris on Monday, on the first day since the country’s lockdown measures in place for 55 days started to ease.AFPBERTRAND GUAY

Back on track:Passengers arriving at the Saint-Lazare Railway Station in Paris on Monday, on the first day since the country’s lockdown measures in place for 55 days started to ease.AFPBERTRAND GUAY  

France, Spain, Germany reopen economies; Britain plots a path to normality

Swathes of Europe began the long process of reopening from coronavirus lockdowns on Monday, but the first new infections in weeks at China’s ground zero offered a sobering reminder of the dangers of a second wave of cases.

The mixed fortunes illustrate the high-wire act governments face across the globe as they try to get economies moving while keeping in check a pandemic that has now killed more than 2,80,000 people and infected over four million.

As France and Spain basked in a relaxation of restrictions and Britain plotted a path to normality, the Chinese city of Wuhan where the pandemic was born reported a second day of new cases after a month without a sign of the virus.

And neighbouring South Korea announced its highest number of infections for more than a month driven by a cluster in a Seoul nightlife district.

With millions out of work and economies shattered, governments are desperate to hit the accelerator, but most are choosing a gradual approach as fears about a resurgence of the virus linger.

Declining death rates

In parts of Europe, officials have been emboldened by declining death rates, with France’s toll dropping to 70 on Sunday — its lowest since early April — and Spain’s daily fatalities falling below 200. The French were able to walk outside without filling in a permit for the first time in nearly eight weeks on Monday, while teachers began returning to primary schools and some shops were set to reopen, causing a surge in the numbers using the Paris metro.

Many Spaniards revelled in being able to visit outdoor terraces and cafes again after months under one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, although virus hotspots such as Madrid and Barcelona remain under wraps.

Shopping boulevards were once again populated with pedestrians in Greece, while other parts of Europe from the Netherlands to Switzerland and Croatia youngsters headed back to the classroom after weeks at home.

Germany too has set in motion the reopening of shops, eateries, schools and gyms, but the process was thrown in doubt on Sunday by official data indicating the virus appears to be picking up speed again. Chancellor Angela Merkel had days ago declared the country could gradually return to normal.

Conditional plan

In Britain, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was too soon for the country to lift its lockdown but he offered hope by unveiling a “conditional plan” to ease curbs in England during the months ahead.

Mr. Johnson said the restrictions had brought “a colossal cost to our way of life” but it would be “madness” to squander the nation’s progress by moving too early.

With governments across the world trying to avoid a second wave, Asian nations that have brought the virus to heel are being keenly watched. Much of China has begun to get back to a form of normality, and on Monday Shanghai Disneyland threw open its gates.

But enthusiasm in China was tempered by news on Sunday that one person had tested positive for the virus in Wuhan. There were five more cases on Monday.

Local health officials said the new infections were all from the same residential compound in the city and were mostly older people.

New Zealand, meanwhile, will phase out its lockdown over the next 10 days, although some restrictions will remain.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned “none of us can assume COVID is not with us”, but said the country had only 90 active cases after a seven-week lockdown.

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