Lockdown restrictions begin to be eased worldwide

A tentative easing of coronavirus lockdowns has gathered pace around the world, including the reopening of local shops that many of India’s 1.3 billion people rely on.

The US states of Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska also began loosening lockdown orders on their pandemic-hit businesses, even as the country’s confirmed Covid-19 death toll soared past 50,000 – and health experts warned that an easing of restrictions may have come too early.

In Europe, France, Belgium and Italy have all laid out plans to ease regulations, while in Spain children are set to be allowed outside for the first time in weeks tomorrow. But Sri Lanka tightened its restrictions amid concerns of a second wave of cases. 

The relaxation of the strict Indian lockdown came with a number of conditions and did not apply to hundreds of quarantined towns and other hotspots that have been hit hardest by the outbreak. India has recorded at least 775 deaths, with many poorer people living in slum conditions too crowded for social distancing terrified by the outbreak. 

Last week, India also allowed manufacturing and farming to resume in rural areas to ease the financials fears of millions of daily wage-earners left jobless by the lockdown imposed on March 24. Shopping malls remain closed nationwide, with India’s restrictions only allowing people out of their homes to buy food, medicine or other essentials.

Elsewhere in Asia, authorities reported no new deaths on Saturday for the 10th straight day in China, where the outbreak originated.

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South Korea reported just 10 fresh cases, the eighth day in a row its daily total came below 20. There were no new deaths for the second straight day.

But in Sri Lanka, the lockdown was tightened, not eased, as authorities juggle public health against the health of shut-down economies. A month-long curfew during daytime hours had been partially lifted in more than two thirds of the country.

However, it reimposed a 24-hour lockdown nationwide after a surge of 46 new infections on Friday, the highest increase in a day on the island. The new curfew remains in effect until Monday.

On Saturday, the global death toll climbed toward 200,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

Pope Francis appealed to people to pray for funeral home workers, saying: ‘What they do is so heavy and sad. They really feel the pain of this pandemic.’

In Europe, Belgium revealed plans to ease its lockdown from May 4, with the resumption of non-essential treatment in hospitals and the reopening of textile and sewing shops to enable people to have face masks.

Bars and restaurants would be allowed to start reopening on June 8, although Belgian prime minister Sophie Wilmes also cautioned that a surge in infections could alter the timeline, and that ‘nothing is set in stone’.

Children in Spain will be allowed outside for the first time in weeks on Sunday, when a total ban on letting them outside is relaxed.

After 44 days indoors, they will be allowed to take one toy or scooter with them but not play together during adult-supervised one-hour excursions no further than one kilometre from home.

Italy announced that free protective masks will be distributed to nursing homes, police, public officials and transport workers, preparing for the return to work of millions of Italians when lockdown restrictions are eased from May 4.

In France, the government is preparing to ease one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns from May 11. The health minister detailed plans on Saturday to scale up testing to help contain any new flare-ups.

Testing shortages are a critical problem elsewhere, too, including in Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, where there are fears that the country could become a pandemic hotspot.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and four other major cities warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse or already overwhelmed.

In Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon, officials said a cemetery has been forced to dig mass graves because there have been so many deaths. Workers have been burying 100 corpses a day – triple the pre-virus average.

In the US, Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen, while Alaska opened the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations.

Some Alaskan municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.

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