BERLIN: Germany’s Bundesliga became the first major European football league to return from coronavirus lockdown on Saturday, playing in empty stadiums as leisure-seekers across the continent flocked to newly reopened beaches.
The re-openings are a tentative step towards a return to normality in some of the countries worst affected by the pandemic, which has killed more than 307,000 people, infected over 4.5 million, wrought vast economic havoc and brought life to a halt.
There are also signs that countries are relaxing border controls imposed months ago to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Italy, for a long stretch the world’s worst-hit country, announced on Saturday that EU tourists will be allowed to visit from June 3 and a 14-day mandatory quarantine period will be scrapped.
Russia has announced its own football league will return next month and has pushed ahead with plans to lift restrictions despite recording its highest daily death toll on Saturday, with 119 fatalities.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the government would seek to extend the country’s state of emergency for “about a month”, until the transition out of lockdown is completed.
In France, the first weekend after the most strict measures were lifted saw many venture out into the spring sunshine — and hit the beach.
In the French Riviera city of Nice, keen swimmers jumped into the surf before 8am.
Here comes the sun
With the northern hemisphere’s summer fast approaching, governments are moving to help their key tourism industries salvage something from the wreckage.
Parasols and sunloungers have popped up on coastlines in Italy and Greece, which opened its beaches on Saturday.
Pedri Alatras, a worker at the Kavouri beach near Athens, said disinfecting lounge chairs after each customer was a burden.
“I also have to wear gloves when it’s almost 40 degrees (Celsius, 104 Fahrenheit), it’s exhausting but we have to respect the measures,” he said on Saturday, when temperatures hit 38C.
The sun sparked alarm in parts of England, with officials warning people to stay away from newly reopened beauty spots due to fears of overcrowding.
Malls reopened in the Philippines’ capital Manila but saw only a trickle of customers, while in Vietnam, hundreds queued for tourist boats at the newly reopened UNESCO heritage site of Ha Long Bay.
After Europe’s powerhouse Germany tipped into recession this week, the government said Saturday it would give an aid package worth 57 billion euros ($62 million) to help local authorities weather the onslaught.
Air Canada has become the latest firm to slash staff due to the pandemic, saying it made the “very painful decision” to lay off half its workforce.
In the US, the world’s worst-affected country with more than 87,000 deaths and 1.4 million cases, more than 10 per cent of the population is now unemployed.
Trump has been keen to ease lockdown measures as he seeks re-election in November, but some areas are resisting. Lockdown measures in New York City have been extended until May 28.
The virus is still surging in Latin America, and Chile’s capital Santiago spent Saturday under total lockdown for the first time after it saw a 60 per cent leap in confirmed cases.
Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2020