WELLINGTON – Parisians returned to the City of Light’s beloved sidewalk cafes as lockdown restrictions eased Tuesday, but health experts expressed deep concerns as several Latin American countries opted to reopen their economies despite a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.
The post-lockdown freedom along Paris’ cobbled streets will be tempered by social distancing rules for the city's once-densely packed cafe tables. Paris City Hall has authorized outside seating areas only, with indoor seating off-limits until June 22. But the tiny tables will have to be spaced at least 1 meter apart, sharply cutting their numbers.
“It’s amazing that we’re finally opening up, but the outside area is just a fraction of the inside space,” said Xavier Denamur, the owner of five popular cafes and bistros. “It’s a start.”
But as Parisians reclaimed the rhythm of city life, health experts warned that virus cases are still rising in Latin America, the world’s latest COVID-19 epicenter.
“Clearly the situation in many South American countries is far from stable. There is a rapid increase in cases and those systems are coming under increasing pressure,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program.
His warning came as some of Brazil’s hardest-hit cities, including the jungle city of Manaus and the sprawling metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, were starting to allow more business activity. Brazil has reported more than 526,000 infections, second only to the 1.8 million cases reported by the U.S.
Bolivia and Venezuela have also started opening up their economies, Ecuador has resumed flights and shoppers have returned to Colombia's malls.
In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered a personal note of caution to his country's gradual roll-back of virus restrictions by opting to drive 1,000 miles instead of flying to promote a key infrastructure project.
Despite its public praise of China, the WHO was deeply frustrated with Chinese authorities for not immediately providing the world body with information it needed to fight the spread of the deadly virus, the Associated Press has found.
Tight controls on information and competition within China’s health services are believed to be why the country delayed releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.
WHO officials publicly lauded China to coax more information out of the government, but privately complained in the first week of January that China wasn’t sharing enough data to assess how the virus spread between people or what the global risk was, costing valuable time.
As economic fallout from the pandemic slammed economies around the world, more than 225 current and former global VIPs urged the leaders of the Group of 20 major economic powers to back a $2.5 trillion plan to tackle COVID-19 and launch an economic recovery from the pandemic.
They said poor and middle-income countries, which represent nearly 70% of the world’s population, need immediate action.
Back in Europe, France on Tuesday put technology to work to check the spread of the virus by rolling out its StopCovid contact-tracing app as neighboring countries including the U.K., Germany and Italy prepared to launch their own versions.
French users can voluntarily download the app on their smartphones. If they test positive, they'll will be able to notify others who have been in close contact for at least 15 minutes.
The app’s nearly 70,000 registered users were subject to fines if they left their home or if they failed to take a selfie when directed to do so to prove their location. Some people said the app asked for selfies in the middle of the night.
“I don’t mind paying a fine for something I did wrong, but I don’t understand what I’m paying for here,” said Grigory Sakharov who was handed six fines — two of which were given before he installed the app while he was still in the hospital recovering.
Russian authorities, who have handed out 54,000 fines, insisst they have only been issued to those who repeatedly violated quarantine regulations.
British lawmakers were returning to Parliament on Tuesday but some are sharply critical of the government's decision to scrap a remote-voting system used during the country's lockdown. They worry that an end to the country's unprecedented but brief experiment with virtual voting will turn those who must stay at home because of age, illness or family responsibilities into second-class lawmakers.
Britain's Conservative government says lawmakers should be setting an example by showing up in person as the country gets back to work. But critics argue it’s too risky to return to Parliament.
“Asking people to travel from all corners of the U.K. to go to the global hot spot that is London ... is gambling with the virus,” said Scottish National Party lawmaker Angus MacNeil.
Britain’s statistics agency said the U.K. had 48,106 coronavirus-related deaths up to the week ending May 22. That number dwarfs the government’s daily figures, which are based on initial cause of death assessments and put COVID-related deaths at just above 39,000. The statistics agency numbers are collated from death registrations, which can take a couple of weeks to be issued. Britain is second only to the U.S. in the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
Meanwhile, Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London said he expects levels of coronavirus infections in the U.K. to “remain relatively flat between now and September." But he told the House of Lords that the “real uncertainty” will be in September — a time when respiratory viruses start spreading more forcefully.
Worldwide, 6.5 million people have been infected with the virus, which has killed over 375,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is too low because many people died without being tested. The United States has seen over 105,000 deaths and Europe has had nearly 175,000.
South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped again to more than 35,000 as the country began easing its lockdown. The country has seen cases double roughly every 12 days.
As economic fallout slammed economies around the world, more than 225 current and former global VIPs urged the leaders of the Group of 20 major economic powers to back a $2.5 trillion plan to tackle COVID-19 and launch an economic recovery. They said poor and middle-income countries, which represent nearly 70% of the world’s population, need immediate action.
Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Reporters from around the world contributed to this report. Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak