Europe moves ahead with lockdown easing, but caution in Asia

by Mariette Le Roux, with AFP bureaus
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Europe wants to reopen to help revive the tourist industry

Several European countries including France and Britain on Thursday moved to further lift crippling coronavirus lockdown measures, but fresh restrictions in parts of Asia signalled the crisis is far from over.

As much of the world grapples to find the path forward, with the deadly virus still spreading in some places and a vaccine at best a distant reality, Europe is slowly emerging from isolation.

France is set to reopen its bars, restaurants and museums next week -- when Britain will send some children back to school and shops throw open their doors.

On the sporting front, the English Premier League and Italy's Serie A unveiled plans to resume play in mid-June.

"Freedom will be the rule and restriction the exception," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

But of course, there was sombre news as well.

The death toll mounted to more than 357,000 around the world. More than 5.7 million have been confirmed as infected since the virus emerged in China late last year.

On the economic front, the number of unemployed climbed as well -- more than 40 million in the United States have filed jobless claims since the crisis began, and Brazil shed five million jobs in the first quarter.

British carrier EasyJet said it would axe up to 30 percent of its staff, and Japanese car manufacturer Nissan reported a huge $6.2 billion annual net loss.

And in Asia, restrictions were reimposed in South Korea and Sri Lanka after a spate of new infections sparked fears of a second wave of contagion.

The picture remained grim in Latin America, now fully in the throes of the pandemic, with deaths in Brazil topping 26,000, and Chile recording a new record daily death toll Thursday.

In the Chilean capital Santiago, residents have taken to the streets to demand state aid as their livelihoods vanish.

"We don't even get a little help from the government here. They believe that we can live without money. But how can we buy food?" asked welder Oscar Gonzalez.

- 'Real sense of freedom' -

In France, residents enjoyed the reopening of iconic department store Printemps on Thursday -- and the news that restaurants can serve patrons on outside terraces from June 2.

At the country's museums, face masks will be required.

Citizens will also be allowed to travel more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from their homes, just in time for the summer holidays.

"The virus is still present to varying degrees across the territory," Philippe warned as he unveiled the new measures, urging citizens to respect social-distancing guidelines and be vigilant about hand-washing.

France has recorded 28,662 virus-related deaths -- the fourth highest total in the world.

In Britain, football fans rejoiced as the Premier League announced play would resume on June 17. In Italy, Serie A competition will begin again three days later.

Both leagues will play without supporters in the stands, but in Russia, a limited number will be allowed to attend matches when play restarts next month.

"Football is back soon," tweeted England captain Harry Kane, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur.

Elsewhere in Europe, Spaniards were revisiting old joys -- belting out tunes from "Grease" at a 50s-themed drive-in theatre.

"It gives you a real sense of freedom. We really wanted to get out of the house," said 22-year-old Belen Perez, who came with her flatmate.

- 'Heartfelt sympathy' -

In the United States, the country processed a grim milestone -- more than 100,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

"To all of the families & friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent. God be with you!" President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday, as the US death toll reached 101,573.

More and more US states are moving to open up their economies, but health experts have warned not to move too quickly.

The US capital Washington will slowly move into its phase one of reopening on Friday.

The new unemployment data -- another 2.12 million workers filed claims for benefits -- along with US-China tensions, including over the virus, sent Wall Street tumbling at the close.

- Fresh restrictions -

Amid all the reopenings, there were renewed signs of caution as well.

South Korea -- held up as a global model in how to curb the virus -- reimposed some social distancing rules after a series of new clusters emerged, many in the capital Seoul.

Museums, parks and art galleries will all be closed again from Friday for two weeks, while companies were urged to reintroduce flexible working, among other measures.

And in Sri Lanka, some lockdown rules will be rolled out again from Sunday after more than 250 returnees from Kuwait were found to be infected with coronavirus.

In a bit of happier news in Asia, a Bali zoo named a newborn giraffe after the virus.

"Corona is healthy and is still breastfeeding. We'll keep her under observation for three months," said zoo spokesman Anak Agung Ngurah Alit Sujana.

But visitors will have to wait to meet the young calf, as the zoo remains closed to the public.

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People enjoy a sunny day atop Europe's tallest sand dune, the "Dune du Pilat", after its reopening in La Teste-de-Buch, France

World toll of coronavirus infections and deaths as of May 28, 2020 at 1900 GMT

In Chile's capital Santiago, municipal workers prepare to deliver boxes filld with essentials to families in economic need during the pandemic

A man walks past the closed Cafe de Flore in Paris in March 2020 -- restaurants and cafes will be allowed to serve some customers on outside terraces from June 2, 2020

Drive-in theatres like this one in Madrid have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the coronavirus era because of the easy prospect for social distancing

A man walks past a memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives to COVID-19 at Greenwood Cemetery in New York City -- one of the areas in the US hardest hit by the epidemic

A South Korean health worker tests a man at a temporary COVID-19 testing centre in Bucheon, south of Seoul -- the country is reimposing some lockdown measures after a spate of new infections cropped up

This handout picture from the Bali Safari Park shows a baby giraffe named Corona standing with its mother