French reclaim cafes as virus hammers Latin America

By: AFP      Published: 11:08 PM, 2 Jun, 2020
French reclaim cafes as virus hammers Latin America

The French revelled in a return to cafe life Tuesday as Europe emerges from its darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic to face an economic crisis while Latin America remains in the deadly grip an infection surge.

The respiratory disease has claimed more than 375,500 lives and infected more than 6.2 million in its rampage around the globe, upending life in dramatic ways since it first emerged in China late last year.

After chalking up devastating human losses in Europe, the virus has now taken hold in Latin America, where Brazil has logged nearly 30,000 deaths, one of the world's highest tolls.

In Europe, most countries have flattened their initial infection curves and are gradually easing out of confinement as they try to curb the economic fallout of the shutdowns. 

In a symbolic victory in the French capital, Parisians reclaimed beloved rituals on cafe terraces that were allowed to sprawl across pavements to accommodate social distancing measures.

"Coffee on a terrace, that's Paris!," said Martine Depagniat, among those enjoying the new freedom after 10 weeks of closures. 

"I think people really need a return to normal, even though there's still a bit of nervousness," she added. 

Elsewhere in France, bars and restaurants were permitted to go a step further and allow customers to sit inside, while beaches and weddings were also back in business.

Yet the country faces tough times ahead with the economy expected to shrink by 11 percent this year due to the pandemic. 

A similar story is playing out across the continent where schools, swimming pools, pubs and tourist sites are steadily reopening to ease the economic pain, despite fears of a second wave of infections.

In hard-hit Italy, which celebrated its national day Tuesday, President Sergio Mattarella warned "the crisis is not over". 

"Institutions and citizens alike will still have to face its consequences and trauma," he said amid a gradual loosening of restrictions in a bid boost the economy and particularly tourism.

Yet the complications of travel were on display as Greece suspended flights to and from Qatar on Tuesday after detecting multiple infections on a flight from Doha to Athens.

- Rio surfers return -

Across the Atlantic, Latin American countries are logging some of the largest increases in daily infections, with a total of more than a million detected across the region.  

The World Health Organization has warned that healthcare systems could soon be overwhelmed with Peru, Chile and Mexico also seeing big daily increases in infections in addition to Brazil. 

Yet surfers and swimmers streamed back to the beach in Rio de Janeiro as the mega-city started easing lockdown measures, allowing the reopening of places of worship and water sports. 

Mexico has also started rebooting the economy after more than two months of shutdown, allowing activity in the car, mining and construction industries to resume. 

On a global level, "staggeringly large" losses await, World Bank President David Malpass told AFP in a grim warning. 

He said early estimates that anti-virus measures would wipe out $5 trillion are likely to fall far short of the actual damage, expressing worry about a lack of resources to foot the bill. 

"The countries are facing the deepest global recession since World War II," Malpass said.

"And that should keep lots of people up at night worrying about the consequences for the poor, for the vulnerable within those economies, for children, for healthcare workers, all facing unprecedented challenges."

- Exposing racial inequities -

In the United States, which  leads the world with more than 105,000 deaths from COVID-19, the crisis has been overshadowed by anti-racism protests that have erupted in response to police killings of black Americans. 

The issues are intertwined, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, stressing that the virus has had a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities in the US and a range of other countries.

"This virus is exposing endemic inequalities that have too long been ignored," she said in a statement.

The virus death rate for African Americans is reported to be more than double that of other racial groups in the US, she noted. 

Her statement also highlighted the situation in England and Wales, where government data shows a death rate for blacks, ethnic Pakistanis and Bangladeshis that is nearly double that of whites. 

She also pointed to Brazil, where people of colour in Sao Paulo are 62 percent more likely to die from the virus than whites, and to France's heavily minority-inhabited Seine Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, which has reported higher excess mortality figures than other areas.

- Gatherings hit -

In Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus first erupted in December, officials touted another success after finding only 300 positive cases after testing nearly 10 million people over the past two weeks. 

"These numbers show that Wuhan is now the safest city," said Feng Zijian, deputy director of China's national Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elsewhere in Asia, infections have slowed to a trickle in many countries though restrictions on mass gatherings remain.

Hong Kong's annual candlelight vigil for those killed in China's 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown has been banned for the first time due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Indonesia pulled out of the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca over coronavirus fears removing the largest contingent of worshippers.

And there was alarm from Bangladesh, where an official said a 71-year-old became the first Rohingya refugee to die of the virus in camps for those fleeing Myanmar.

The man was among at least 29 Rohingya to test positive in the shelters, which are home to nearly one million people.