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HEALTH

France and Spain move toward reopening as global coronavirus cases pass four million

People in France and Spain, two of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, were preparing Saturday for an easing of lockdown rules as the global number of infections surpassed four million.

France and Spain move toward reopening as global coronavirus cases pass four million
Photo: JOEL SAGET / AFP

In the US, the country with the world's highest death toll, President Donald Trump faced sharp criticism from his predecessor Barack Obama who said on a leaked tape that Trump's handling of the crisis was an “absolute chaotic disaster”.

The virus has claimed more than 78,000 lives in the United States, while the worldwide death toll has surged past 277,000.

The number of infections globally surpassed four million on Saturday, according to an AFP tally.

Lockdowns and economic disruption, meanwhile, have pushed millions into unemployment in a historic global downturn.

Amid the barrage of deaths, some European countries cited signs of progress they said justified taking slow steps back toward some version of normality.

French officials on Saturday said the day's death toll of 80 was the lowest since early April. Nursing home fatalities also fell sharply as France prepared to relax curbs on public movement imposed eight weeks ago.

The easing, to begin Monday, has brought mixed reactions. “I've been scared to death” about the reopening, said Maya Flandin, a bookshop manager from Lyon.

“It's a big responsibility to have to protect my staff and my customers.” French health officials warned that “the epidemic remains active and is evolving”, and a state of emergency was extended to July 10.

In Spain, about half the population will be allowed out on Monday for limited socialization, and restaurants will be able to offer some outdoor service as the country begins a phased transition set to last through June.

Fears lingered, however, of a viral resurgence if restrictions are lifted too quickly, and authorities excluded Madrid and Barcelona, two COVID-19 hotspots, from the first-phase easing.

“The virus has not gone away,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned. Belgium is easing some restrictions on Monday, and in some parts of Germany bars and restaurants reopened on Saturday with further easing set for Monday.

One district in Germany's western North Rhine-Westphalia state remained locked down, however, after an outbreak at a slaughterhouse.

Overall, the situation in Europe was still far from normal.

Britain is reportedly planning to announce on Sunday that all overseas visitors will face a mandatory two-week quarantine, and the European Union warned against opening borders to travellers from outside the bloc.

Across Europe, commemorations marking 75 years since Nazi Germany's surrender were cancelled or scaled down.

In Russia, a soaring number of coronavirus infections forced Moscow on Saturday to pare back traditionally rousing World War II victory celebrations.

President Vladimir Putin instead gave a solemn speech at a memorial outside the Kremlin walls, without mentioning the coronavirus. Russia is now the fifth hardest-hit country, with nearly 200,000 confirmed infections and a rapidly rising caseload.

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HEALTH

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”

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