Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - France, Spain move to reopen as global virus cases top 4.1 million

France, Spain move to reopen as global virus cases top 4.1 million

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France is set to begin relaxing curbs on public movement imposed eight weeks ago. AFP

France, Spain move to reopen as global virus cases top 4.1 million

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide topped 4.1 million as some of the hardest-hit countries readied on Sunday to lift lockdown restrictions, despite concerns about a second wave of infections.

Governments around the world are trying to stop the spread of the disease while scrambling for ways to relieve pressure on their economies, which are facing a historic downturn with millions pushed into unemployment.

But with the death toll already past 280,000, nations are keen to avoid second waves of infections that could overwhelm their healthcare systems, with a new cluster of cases in South Korea raising fears about the virus hitting back rapidly.

Amid the barrage of deaths, some European countries have cited signs of progress that they said justified cautious steps towards a sense of normality.

Officials in France on Saturday said the day’s death toll of 80 was the lowest since early last month, while nursing home fatalities also fell sharply as the nation prepared to relax curbs on public movement imposed eight weeks ago.

The easing, set to begin on Monday, has brought mixed reactions.

“I’ve been scared to death” about the reopening, said Maya Flandin, a bookshop manager from Lyon. “It’s a big responsibility to have to protect my staff and my customers.”

French health officials have warned that “the epidemic remains active and is evolving”, and that social distancing must be kept up even as restrictions are eased.

In Spain, about half the population will be allowed out on Monday for limited socialisation, and restaurants will be able to offer some outdoor service as the country begins a phased transition set to last through June.

Fears lingered, however, of a resurgence, and authorities excluded Madrid and Barcelona – two Covid-19 hotspots – from the first phase.

Belgium is also easing some restrictions on Monday, and in some parts of Germany, bars and restaurants reopened on Saturday with further easing set for Monday.

Overall, the situation in Europe was still far from normal.

Britain is reportedly planning to announce on Sunday that all overseas visitors will face a mandatory two-week quarantine, and the EU warned against opening borders to travellers from outside the bloc.

Across Europe, commemorations marking 75 years since Nazi Germany’s surrender were cancelled or scaled down.

Poland’s election on Sunday will be one for the history books as polling stations remain closed and turnout will clock in at zero due to a political crisis set off by the pandemic – the presidential ballot is formally neither postponed nor cancelled because the government and opposition were unable to agree on a constitutional and safe solution.

South Korea’s capital Seoul shut all bars and clubs on Saturday after a burst of cases were tracked to one of the city’s busiest nightlife districts.

Even as the country eased virus restrictions, officials warned against carelessness after the new cluster of infections, highlighting the challenge of containing the spread of the deadly disease while pursuing an economic revival.

Global economic figures are pointing to the most acute downturn in nearly a century with businesses forced to shut and supply lines badly disrupted, and pressure is growing on leaders around the world to find a way out.

In the US, the country with the world’s highest death toll, President Donald Trump faced sharp criticism from his predecessor Barack Obama, who said on a leaked tape that Trump’s handling of the crisis was an “absolute chaotic disaster”.

Facing re-election in November, Trump has insisted that next year would be “phenomenal” for the US economy, urging reopening in a country where the virus continues to claim well over 1,000 lives daily.

The US lost an unprecedented 20.5 million jobs last month, driving the unemployment rate to 14.7 per cent – the highest level since the Great Depression.

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