By Agence France-Presse
Major landmarks including Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Acropolis in Athens reopened Monday as Europe accelerated its lockdown easing, but mounting coronavirus infections in Brazil, India and South Africa showed the worst is still to come in many countries.
The relaxation of curbs in Europe comes as governments walk the tightrope of struggling to repair the vast economic damage unleashed by the pandemic while preventing new infections that would force another round of restrictions.
The World Health Organization has warned that reopening too quickly without a vaccine could trigger a second devastating wave of infections in the pandemic that has already infected 4.7 million people.
The UN agency on Monday starts a virtual global health assembly to help chart a course out of the crisis, which has seen Japan becoming the latest to slump into a recession while the Fed warned of a severe US downturn.
Once the worst-hit country in the world, Italy on Monday took its latest step in a cautious, gradual return to normality, allowing businesses and churches to reopen after a two-month lockdown.
In a live-streamed prayer Sunday, Pope Francis spoke of the “joy” of restarting services, calling it a “sign of hope for all society” as Saint Peter’s Basilica threw its door open to visitors.
The Vatican, an independent enclave in the heart of Rome, has applied the same anti-virus measures as Italy, which imposed strict lockdowns after a dizzying rise in COVID-19 deaths and infections that overwhelmed hospitals.
While restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, and stores will be allowed to re-open in Italy on Monday, not all proprietors have jumped at the opportunity to receive customers again.
“Either they’re not ready to go or they don’t have the economic strength to do so,” said Mauro, a construction worker sipping a coffee at the only cafe open at Rome’s Piazza Navona.
In Greece, President Katerina Sakellaropoulou was among the first to visit the historic Acropolis of Athens as archaeological sites across the country reopened after two months.
Spain is also set to further ease its lockdown measures, while Germany has already taken several steps towards a return to normality, including the resumption of its top football league — but with empty stadiums.
With an eye on dampening the economic storm unleashed by the crisis, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would present plans to kick-start European Union activity later Monday.