Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Brazil registered its 50,000th death from the coronavirus outbreak on Sunday, underlining Latin America’s desperate struggle to contain the disease, as Europe’s gradual emergence from lockdown was marked by Spain reopening its borders.
Brazil is the second worst-affected country behind the United States, and the spread of COVID-19 is accelerating across Latin America, with Mexico, Peru and Chile also hard-hit as death tolls soar and healthcare facilities are pushed toward collapse.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been fiercely criticized for comparing the virus to a “little flu,” argues the economic impact of shutdowns is often worse than the virus itself.
But Mexico City has delayed reopening markets, restaurants, malls, hotels and places of worship, with the country now recording over 20,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Highlighting the region’s woes, Peru passed 8,000 deaths on Sunday despite preparing to reopen shopping malls on Monday.
In contrast, primary and secondary school children will return to class in France on Monday, and cinemas and theaters will also reopen.
One cinema in Paris opened just after midnight to mark the occasion, with audiences cheering the opening credits.
“We booked immediately. It’s not our usual schedule, but it will create a nice memory after these difficult weeks,” one cinema-goer named Loriane told AFP.
On Sunday, traffic flowed again across the Spain-France border in a watershed moment for the millions of businesses and workers across Europe who have suffered from the economic downturn.
“We wanted to be in Spain for the sun, the beach, tapas, and I’m already wearing my swimsuit under my clothes,” said Frenchwoman Sylvia Faust, who crossed into Spain with her 17-year-old daughter.
– Spain welcomes tourists –
Clusters have also emerged in the Palestinian territories, Morocco and Iran, where officials have now registered more than 100 deaths a day for three days running.
Beijing is also battling a new outbreak of over 200 cases.
The authorities have taken more than two million test samples and banned imports of chicken from an American producer, suspecting the virus could have been in contaminated food.
COVID-19 has now killed more than 465,000 people and infected almost nine million worldwide.
Although the spread has slowed in Europe, it remains the worst-affected continent, with more than 2.5 million cases.
Spain has been among Europe’s hardest-hit nations, but on Sunday it lifted a slew of restrictions in a bid to get its tourism industry back up and running.
As well as opening its land border with France, Spain also welcomed EU nationals, those from the passport-free Schengen zone and Britons at seaports and airports — without enforcing quarantine periods.
Around 100 flights from European countries landed at Spain’s airports.
“We must remain on our guard and strictly follow hygiene and protection measures,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday, stressing that the danger has not passed.
In the Netherlands, police clashed with protesters frustrated over the government’s coronavirus response and made dozens of arrests in the center of The Hague.
Police said the protest, attended by hundreds, was peaceful until a group of football fans clashed with riot police at the nearby Central Station, throwing stones and bottles.
On Sunday, France celebrated its annual music festival marking the summer solstice, with bands playing in cafes, restaurants and on streets across the country.
In Germany, however, concert halls and other institutions still face an uncertain future, with social distancing rules forcing them to slash their events calendars and drastically reduce capacities.
On the eastern fringes of Europe, cases have spiked again in Azerbaijan, forcing the government to institute another lockdown — much to the irritation of workers.
“The government again cages us in like zoo animals and gives not a damn for the consequences,” taxi driver Shahin Mamedkuliyev told AFP.
Saudi Arabia on Sunday ended its coronavirus curfew, lifting restrictions on businesses including hair salons and cinemas, despite a spike in infections.
It also reopened its mosques in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, after a three-month shutdown.
But international flights and religious pilgrimages remain suspended, and the authorities have not yet said whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj, scheduled for the end of July.
– Trump’s testing boast –
The United States is the worst-hit country overall, with 119,000 deaths, but President Donald Trump held his first campaign rally in months on Saturday, inviting thousands to an arena in Oklahoma — although there were many empty seats.
“When you do testing… you will find more cases… so I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down,'” he told the crowd. The White House later said that Trump was joking.
The president is attempting to kickstart his campaign for re-election in November in the face of a tanking economy.
In one upbeat story from Latin America, an Argentine sailor took 85 days to cross the ocean from Portugal alone in his small sailboat to return home with his aging parents, arriving in time for Father’s Day.
Scientists are still learning about the virus, its symptoms and the way it spreads — and a vaccine still remains a distant possibility.
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