Europe opens up as virus toll on economies mounts

PARIS: More parts of Europe opened up yesterday despite fears of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, as shock new figures revealed the extent of the disease’s toll on the US and German economies.

Borders were reopening and lockdowns continued to ease from Australia to Austria as governments around the world tried to rebuild economies that have been shattered by the outbreak.

But the battle against Covid-19 is far from won, with more than 300,000 deaths and nearly 4.5 million infections globally, and the virus continuing to ravage the US and Russia.

With a vaccine a year away at best and the World Health Organisation warning the virus might never go away, countries are taking steps to try to return life to something like a semblance of normality.

Slovenia yesterday became the first European country to open its borders, declaring an end to its coronavirus epidemic, despite new infections still being reported.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were set to create their own “Baltic bubble”, allowing free movement among the three countries, while Austria and Germany were expected to open their shared border.

Austria has been a pioneer in ending lockdowns and took an important symbolic step yesterday by reopening its restaurants and iconic Viennese cafes.

“It’s been hard for us that everything’s been closed,” said Fanny and Sophie, 19-year-old students waiting for breakfast at a cafe in the Austrian capital. “We missed it and we’re going to come back as much as possible.”

On the other side of the world, Sydney’s bars and restaurants opened their doors to customers as a weeks-long lockdown eased.

“The desire to sit in a place that is not your house with your mates and have a drink is truly overwhelming,” said Chrissy Flanagan, owner of The Sausage Factory, a bistro in Australia’s biggest city.

In the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Basilica will reopen on Monday after a two-month closure due to the pandemic.

In badly-hit Italy, some beaches are reopening but the absence of tourists is still keenly felt, for example in the canal city of Venice, where even the pigeons have deserted the famed St Mark’s Square.

“Without tourists, Venice is a dead city,” said 66-year-old gondolier Mauro Sambo.

Russia pushed ahead with plans to ease restrictions despite reporting more than 10,000 new cases, with its football league set to return next month and thousands being tested for antibodies.

Germany is ready to relaunch its football championship today, although in front of empty stadiums and under draconian health measures.

However France called for self-restraint as the country prepared for its first weekend since its lockdown was eased on Monday, warning that police would break up any large gatherings.

France also announced the first death of a child from an inflammatory condition believed to be linked to coronavirus, as similar child fatalities are being investigated in New York and London.

The pressure to ease lockdowns has mounted as the catastrophic economic effects of the virus have become clearer.

The virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year before spreading around the world, fuelled by air travel and a globalised economy.

Europe’s top economy Germany meanwhile tipped into recession, suffering its worst steepest quarterly contraction since the global financial crisis in 2009.

Although the figure was smaller than steep GDP plunges in France, Italy and Spain, Berlin now expects a record 6.3 per cent contraction in the economy for 2020.

Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank doubled its previous estimate of the cost of the pandemic, saying the world economy would shrink by $8.8 trillion – almost a 10th of global output.

It was estimated that the British government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic has risen to £123.2 billion.




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