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Moscow emerges from lockdown as WHO warns of ‘worsening’ global crisis

(With more than 485,000 cases as of Tuesday, Russia has the third-highest number of confirmed infections after the United States and Brazil. Photo: AFP-OLGA MALTSEVA)

MOSCOW, (AFP):- Moscow emerged from a strict coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday despite Russia seeing thousands of new cases every day, as the World Health Organization warned the pandemic was “worsening” worldwide.

Muscovites flocked to streets and parks after authorities in the Russian capital lifted restrictions in place since March 30, even as the country registered 8,595 new cases and its total death toll surpassed 6,000.

Walking in central Moscow under sunny skies, 33-year-old marketing manager Olga Ivanova said that after weeks stuck at home it felt good to have her city back.

“It’s nice out and there are a lot of people on the streets. It’s a beautiful day, in every sense of the word,” she said.

With more than 485,000 cases as of Tuesday, Russia has the third-highest number of confirmed infections after the United States and Brazil.

Officials say the high number is the result of a huge testing campaign, with more than 13 million tests carried out so far, and point to Russia’s relatively low mortality rate as evidence it is safe to ease lockdowns.

Critics have accused authorities of under-reporting deaths and say officials are rushing to lift restrictions for political reasons, after President Vladimir Putin rescheduled a high-profile military parade for June 24 and a vote on constitutional reforms for July 1.

But as large parts of Europe and the United States reopen, the WHO reported a record number of new coronavirus cases globally.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that 136,000 cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours, “the most in a single day so far,” with the majority of them in the Americas and South Asia.

– Complacency is ‘biggest threat’ –

“Although the situation in Europe is improving, globally it is worsening,” he told reporters.

Tedros said that in countries where the situation was getting better, “the biggest threat is now complacency”.

“More than six months into this pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal,” he said.

COVID-19 deaths have passed 406,000 worldwide, with more than seven million infections, since the disease emerged in China late last year before sweeping the globe, subjecting billions to some form of lockdown and paralysing economies.

Governments around the world are cautiously peeling back those restrictions to resuscitate their economies while trying to avoid a resurgence of infections.

A study by Imperial College London published on Monday estimated that lockdowns prevented 3.1 million deaths in 11 European countries.

Cyprus on Tuesday welcomed its first tourists after nearly three months on lockdown, with flights scheduled from Israel, Greece and Bulgaria.

Desperate to save its summer tourism season, the Mediterranean island’s government has pledged to cover the medical costs of any visitor who tests positive for the coronavirus while on holiday.

Other countries have been more cautious.

The health minister in Spain, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, said that wearing face masks in public will be compulsory “until we permanently defeat the virus” with an effective treatment or vaccine.

And Britain, which is nearing almost 50,000 suspected and confirmed deaths, has imposed a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into the country, British nationals included.

New York City — the epicentre of America’s coronavirus outbreak — began partially reopening its shattered economy on Monday after almost three months of lockdown.

“It’s good to be back,” said Michael Ostergren, manager of the Shakespeare and Co bookshop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where a trickle of customers arrived shortly after the doors reopened.

– ‘Manipulating numbers is a crime’ –

In Latin America, countries geared up for the worst as the outbreak escalated, with Brazil, Mexico and Peru particularly hard hit.

Brazil has the world’s third-highest death toll at more than 36,000, but President Jair Bolsonaro continues to play down the impact of the virus and has urged regional officials to lift lockdown measures.

Critics are accusing Bolsonaro of playing with the figures, after his government first stopped reporting the total number of fatalities and infections, and then released conflicting data.

“Manipulating the number of dead in a pandemic is a crime,” said influential columnist Miriam Leitao in newspaper Globo.

Fears in Asia that the virus may not be under control persist, with the death toll and infection rate climbing sharply in India, even as the government lifted some curbs Monday after a 10-week lockdown.

Delhi authorities warned that they expect cases in the Indian capital to shoot up almost 20 times to more than half a million in the coming weeks.

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