PARIS/LONDON: Coronavirus deaths topped 400,000 on Saturday in Europe, the world’s second worst-hit region, as parts of the continent began to reopen shops for the holiday season.

But across the Atlantic fearful US shoppers turned to online outlets for a massive Black Friday sale, while densely populated Los Angeles county announced a ban on gatherings of people from different households under a new “safer-at-home order” to battle the surging pandemic.

Persistently high case numbers in many western countries loom over governments’ hopes of easing their virus rules for Christmas and New Year.

The holidays would be a longed-for respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until a clutch of promising new vaccines kick in. Britain, where police arrested over 60 people during a protest in London against virus restrictions, accounted for almost two-thirds of the fatalities with 57,551, followed by Italy (53,677), France (51,914) and Spain (44,668).

Stores began lifting their shutters in France on Saturday, while Poland’s shopping centres will also reopen.

“I’d rather avoid the internet, I’m going to buy things in the shops. They need it,” said Anne Dubois, one of the first customers applauded through the doors by staff at Paris’ vast Galeries Lafayette department store as it opened at 10am.

“Whether or not there’s people here, at least we’ve got our daily life getting back to normal,” said 36-year-old Aurelie, a manager in the L’Oreal section at Galeries Lafayette.

Belgium will allow shops to reopen from December 1, but keep the current semi-lockdown in place possibly until mid-January. The move mirrors similar easing in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Ireland has also announced a staggered easing of restrictions to allow some businesses to reopen and for families to gather ahead of Christmas.

Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged more than one million cases on Friday.

Although the virus spread is slowing thanks to weeks of tough restrictions, Europe remains at the heart of the pandemic, recording more cases than the United States in the past week.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the overall total in the country beyond the one-million mark.

More worryingly, the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.

Germans still have “three or four long winter months ahead”, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Die Welt daily on Saturday, warning that “it’s possible the restrictions will be maintained into the first months of 2021”.

Meanwhile in the French Alps, demonstrations were held over the shutting of ski slopes, restaurants and bars over the holiday season.

Police said 400 people gathered in the Alpine town of Gap, while organisers put that number at 2,000.

“Without the opening of the lifts and shops, the resorts will be dead... It represents almost 40 percent of the economy of the whole mountain,” restaurant owner Cedric Manzoni said.

The United States surpassed 13 million total cases on Friday — the world’s highest figure — and officials were concerned whether gatherings on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday would further worsen the situation.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2020

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