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Virus tolls surge in Russia, Americas as Europe speeds reopening

(A grandson and grandmother speak through a window in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where coronavirus cases are spiking. Photo: AFP-NELSON ALMEIDA)

THE HAGUE, (AFP):- The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic spiked again in Russia and the Americas on Friday, even as Europe’s experiment with reopening from lockdown grew bolder by the day.

Fresh restrictions in Asia also signalled that there will be a long road back to normality from the pandemic that has killed more than 360,000 people and hammered the global economy.

However signs of pre-COVID 19 life’s return continue to grow, with English and Italian football unveiling plans to join Germany in resuming to play the world’s most popular game.

Populations are learning to adjust to life with the long-term threat of infection as the virus continues its march around the globe — with more than 5.8 million cases — and a vaccine remains elusive.

Russia reported a record increase of 232 coronavirus deaths on Friday, taking it to a total of 4,374 deaths and 387,623 cases, the third-highest number of infections in the world after the United States and Brazil.

Moscow authorities meanwhile released mortality figures to dispel allegations they were under-reporting deaths to play down the scale of the crisis.

Russian authorities said numbers of deaths in the capital were far lower than those in New York and London, attributing the difference to mass testing.

Moscow is due to ease its lockdown on Monday, and the Kremlin is in talks with world leaders to attend a World War II parade in late June.

The urgency was underlined by ballooning death tolls in South America, increasingly the new focus of the pandemic that first emerged in China late last year before spreading around the world.

Brazil recorded more than 1,000 fatalities and a national one-day record for infections, while Chile also logged a record daily death toll Thursday and total fatalities topped 4,000 in Peru.

“With confinement everything has changed for most of us. We find ourselves without any work,” Oscar Gonzalez, a 43-year-old welder in the deprived Brisas del Sol area of Santiago, told AFP.

– ‘Sense of freedom’ –

The United States recorded 1,297 new coronavirus deaths on Thursday, and has now seen more than 101,000 fatalities from the disease, the worst toll in the world.

The economic carnage continues, with eurozone inflation slumping in May as Europe is predicted to enter its sharpest ever recession, the number of people filing unemployment claims in the US reaching 40 million, and Brazil shedding five million jobs.

The toll on workers around the world was illustrated further with news that French car giant Renault plans to cut 15,000 jobs as part of a two billion euro ($2.2 billion) cost-cutting drive.

Seeking to stem the bleeding, Europe has been carefully moving ahead with the lifting of restrictions, with France set to reopen bars, restaurants and museums next week and Britain sending children back to school over the next two weeks.

England’s FA Cup final is set to take place on August 1, football authorities announced Friday, while England’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A are both due to resume in June.

The crucial tourism industry is also seeking its day back in the sun as the Northern Hemisphere’s summer holiday season approaches, with hotels in Austria allowed to reopen on Friday under special guidelines.

But Vienna hotels expect to fill just five to 10 percent of their capacity in June, after three tough months that would have normally been strong due to business travellers.

“The loss of these bookings this year cannot be recovered,” Vienna chamber of commerce head Dominic Schmid said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Spaniards were revisiting old joys as life gets back on track — with people seen belting out tunes from the classic movie “Grease” at a 1950s-themed drive-in theatre in Madrid.

“It gives you a real sense of freedom. We really wanted to get out of the house,” said 22-year-old Belen Perez.

– Curbs return –

But many countries that have seen success in curbing the virus are now on alert for a second wave of infections, particularly in Asia.

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

Numbers of children in Seoul schools will be cut back while museums, parks and art galleries were closed again from Friday for two weeks.

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.

As people emerge from weeks of confinement, some say the experience has not been all bad.

Electronic dance music titan David Guetta said lockdown had given him the chance to look inward and breed inspiration as the 52-year-old Grammy-winning French DJ gears up for a New York COVID-19 benefit concert.

“I’ve tried to dig into myself,” Guetta said. “I’m more inspired to write songs to inspire people and try to give them happiness.”

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